Geneva Diaries #27*

Language and The Presumption of Innocence – OED Online – Le Chat Qui Parle


Dear Roger,

Another visit to the video library and another struggle with movie titles, do help! 

I just saw an English movie, one which we had recently watched, called “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”, titled in french as “Presume Coupable”! Now, please correct me, but does that not translate to presumed guilty/alleged culpable? If so, how does “beyond a reasonable doubt”  translate into presumed guilty? In fact, as I see it, it’s exactly the opposite of presumed guilty. Are we not innocent until proven guilty, with the burden resting on the prosecution to demonstrate “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” of the guilt? 

I was once told (by my froggie abductor whom I missed seeing this weekend, a “wild mushroom” story that I might share when we meet) that in the French legal system, the burden is upon the individual to demonstrate his innocence (this shifting of burdens in my universe is absolutely shocking, unforgivable, incomprehensible)! Please tell me this is not so, please, please pretty please…

I am further perplexed, as I just read an interesting article (in the IHT) this morning shedding new light on the old debate on the role of language in the moulding of ones thoughts and ideas, and if the French ideas are based on the converse translations of what we in the common law world understand to be the truth, then we should all be forewarned that we are entering into an alternate universe where we must walk on our heads to be acknowledged.

Art Installation- Orchard Road, Singapore-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

I apologize for coming to you with all my problems and queries, but you ARE my French teacher after all!

Good night and see you next Saturday.

Dear Purnima,

I see you have been writing into the wee small hours of the morning again.  It reminds me of my graduate school days when I would often have to pull all-nighters to finish a paper or work on my thesis.  I always appreciated the calm and quiet of those post-midnight hours when there was nothing to distract you from what you were concentrating on.

Film title translations are very often a mystery (and we won’t even get into the many terrible subtitles I’ve seen over the years).  There often isn’t any relation between the original title and the French translation.  I remember the case of the translation for the American release of a French film back in the 80’s.  The original title was “Coup de foudre”, which translates at “Love at first sight”  The title in the US was not even in English, and don’t ask me why they chose a French title.  It was called “Entre nous”.   I also remember the translation in Danish of the great Billy Wilder film, “Some Like it Hot”.  In Danish the title was “Ingen er fuldkommen” = Nobody’s Perfect, which, although it’s the last lines in the film, has really nothing to do with the story line of the film.  So don’t worry you beautiful head over such seeming incongruities in film titles.  They will always be there, and it is often someone’s idea of how to best portray the content of the film in a title in a different language.  It is not always a direct translation.;

And, as for you much more serious question about innocent until proven guilty or guilty until proven innocent, I’m afraid your froggie admirer is right.  The French justice system theoretically is based on the principle of “the presumption of innocence”, but in actual practice that is rarely the case.  It really is up to the accused (or to his or her more or less (in)competent lawyers) to prove his or her innocence.  And can’t we also say that the same thing often occurs in the US legal system ?  When the honor and reputation of a district attorney’s office depends on bringing in a guilty verdict in high profile cases, the prime focus of the legal system is overwhelmingly on getting the jury to declare “Guilty, your Honor” at the end of the trial.  There is very often little concern for the truth.  The primary directive is to find the defendant guilty.  I am often disheartened at the legal system in the US that adamantly fights to prevent a retrial of a death-row prisoner based on new evidence, especially DNA evidence that could prove the innocence of someone that has been wrongly convicted.  The defendant’s lawyers have to mount extensive legal battles to force the local authorities to accept the new evidence.  And then, even when the person is determined to be innocent, it is often months before they are actually released.  There is a case in Texas right now of a man convicted of killing someone, and the local courts at first refused to allow DNA evidence to be introduced.  It is as though the system itself would be besmirched, since it would be proof that they had actually convicted the wrong person.  That is also one of the main reasons why I am adamantly opposed to the death penalty.  There are too many examples of totally innocent people being executed by the state.

Well, that was a heady way to start my Sunday morning !  I’m sorry your planned rendezvous in Paris was cancelled.  That must have been disappointing.  Did he eat some wild mushrooms that he shouldn’t have ?

I saw that article on how language can shape the way we think on the New York Times website, but I haven’t read it yet.  I have always felt this was probably the case.  Maybe that explains why the Japanese are so ahead of the game in many areas: their language is so complicated and intricate, and also why the French have produced a body of literature and philosophical essays that is so impressive.

We’ll bring champagne Saturday night.  I bought it Friday in Ferney Voltaire at my favorite wine shop and it is already in the fridge staying chilled.  What time should we arrive ?

Have a good Sunday, and see you on Saturday,





Dear Roger,

Believe it or Not, I did make it to Paris… and back in time to catch my flight to Delhi tomorrow morning!

There is so much to say, share but I am struggling to put pen to paper, finger on keyboard for some very odd reason… have to wait to catch up upon my return early October. However, I am keen you check out the book that has been on my mind, “Whatever happened to Tangayika” by Harry Campbell, this book, apart from being a fabulously entertaining account of changing place names (many of which we have seen in our lifetimes), giving a colorful geographical, cultural and historic overview of the changing names of places, the words and their origins. This extremely well written geographic account by someone who describes himself as a lexicographer (btw, did you read about the plans to do away with the hard copy of the Oxford English dictionary and put it completely online so that it can be continuously and quickly updated in step with the rapidly changing vocab of the tweeters texters and cyber smurfs, but then, what happens to warm, familiar, tactile experiences of having someone in his 4th edition, yes I have the 1950’s version that always rests besides me, with whom you have many disagreements, face away but always return, sincere till the end, they want to do away with him…such blasphemy!) and armchair traveller, who is also apparently a linguist, truly opens up a new doorway, one we have discussed at length in the past, a multi disciplinary arena, where languages, geography, history, art and culture mesh and create an exciting, absorbing area of study. 

In fact, two years ago, just a few months after arriving in Geneva, I attended a legal conference at the Palais de Justice, a segment of which was presented by members of the legal faculty of the University of Geneva who interestingly enough were proposing such an idea, of setting up a department of multi disciplinary studies at the University . All I remember is that In my excitement, I went bouncing up to the virtual reality professor to shake his hand and share with him my enthusiasm for the proposed department. However, for some odd reason, the professor shot up ten feet in the air as I introduced myself, a truly comic scene (and I wasn’t even wearing my electric buzzer ring) and that was the end of my exploring any plans at the University of Geneva! 

Will email from India, much much to share, but I just can’t wait to leave, not sure if it’s wanderlust striking once again, homesickness or just a long long summer with the brats watching yet another session of “The Annoying Orange” (Roger, you absolutely have to check this out on youtube, at least I will have someone to share my memories/misery with, I found myself ENJOYING IT!!!) . See below The Annoying Orange:

I’m all packed and ready to go, taking along (what promises to be an exciting book) a wake up and “delete” call on the cyber-world on this long journey on the back of the bus to India! I look forward to the sushi meal (and finally checking out the kitchen) in October.

Hugs to the family and many kisses (after my french lessons in Paris I’m scared to use the French equivalent).


date:Oct 10, 2020
subject:Le Chat Qui Parle

Dear Roger,
I have just read Annick’s delightful compilation of 12 short mystery stories for French learners titled Le Chat Qui Parle. Of course, I needed a little help from google translate to fully follow the storyline, but regardless of how I got there, it had me hooked because the stories were full of suspense, mystery and novelty, an absolutely fun way to learn a language. Do convey my two thumbs up to Annick, but also to Marty Van Loan for his masterful representation of the quixotic cat, le chat qui parle. That cat certainly spoke to me lol! If I were to choose my fav short story, I really wouldn’t know which one to crown as they were all fab. I could almost hear the purr from the first story of Le Chat Qui Parle or the Cat who talks, Le Deuxième Personage about comic books or bande dessine was fun, Vol Direct Pour Nice ( Direct Flight to Nice) had me in splits, Le Cinquantieme Anniversary (The 50th anniversary) had me first shedding a  tear and then smiling, La Fete de Noel (Christmas) with the reference of my all time favorite symbol of the nightingale was I guess my fav. However, Sous Controle (Under Control) struck a cord close to home as it covered something I have been thinking and writing about – surveillance and the resulting intrusions in our lives and private spaces. So, yes it’s a fun read and a great way to teach French and I can’t wait to share this on my blog!

Back to Sous Controle and surveillance, we have truly in a very short time landed ourselves in a sticky web, one that looks impossible to extricate ourselves from. Our world and our children’s (grandkids) world is one run on and by data. There seems no escape from all our devices and today those are not just for entertainment but essential for both work and play. The option of locking oneself away in the remote recesses of the mountains surrounding the Bay Area (or any metropolitan area) to escape having our imprint captured by technology appears to be an impossibility. Our every move, thought, inclination, observation and desire is being captured supplemented by our physical attributes, images, expressions, sounds, movements, tones, expressions, fingerprints, DNA, ideas, beliefs and disbeliefs. All of which is being compiled into a neat data packet, and each packet becomes a part of a category. Once we are thus mapped and categorized, the State is no longer our human construct to be tweaked and moulded reflecting the changing times, but we become it’s construct as it tweaks and moulds us to conform to it’s predetermined silos in order for homogeneity and efficiency. 

See below the phenomenal Spiders exhibit at the SFMOMA by Louise Bourgeois:

The Sticky Web: See Purnima below looking at her iphone, next Purnima is taking a selfie, then Purnima senses something watching her, next Purnima screams but it too late because in the next image Purnima is trapped by the spider and in the final image Purnima become data (I Am Data) from the Data exhibit at the Singapore ArtScience Museum:

Here is an image from an exhibit at the Singapore ArtScience Museum which is what I have become entrapped by the spider – I AM DATA

In my attempt to keep up with my French linguistic skills, I decided to listen to some French songs recommended by an online French learners group and stumbled upon ZAZ which took me on a journey back in time, to my time in Geneva and some of the music surrounding me and my time there. This particular song with it’s rocking tune struck a chord with me so I have adopted this song to my storyline, and moulded its lyrics to represent my story centered on Privacy.  

ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue, which means watch your tongue.  it means watch what you say because  “He” is always watching!Here is the first paragraph from the lyrics which in my story is a forwarming about the looming and avaricious data demons looking to strip us of ourselves:

Ouch, ouch, how naive you can be

of all these untrusworthy people
Who promise the moon for you,
Letting them your power
So they can manipulate you,
Your precious freedom
And even sometimes your moolah.

Do check out the fun French song ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue:

Unfortunately, it’s our teens who are falling victim to the data demons and all their fantastic webs, social media platforms. I see the obsession, slavish devotion and devastation wreaked upon their lives by its misuse and abuse. Not a day passes when I don’t hear about yet another flippant statement made online as though it were made in person, with devastating consequences (part of my God Save Our Teens segement)…The Snapchat case of the school kid being expelled for posting a selfie on snapchat (assuming it will evaporate with all the other selfies due to it’s limited posting time ignorant of the fact that someone could take a screenshot making it last for eternity) while trying a costume in a thrift shop and posting it with a racist caption, or the minor girl sexting images to her two friends in a group chat only to find them disseminated to everyone and having a juvenile petition with criminal charges of child pornography and obscenity filed against her, despite her being the “child” in the pic.

This generation has no second chances, everything they do, say and think is captured for eternity. I think of my carefree youth and the numerous irreverent comments, gestures, even limericks made up about our teachers, staff and persons who had crossed our path to my friends, I remember changing the names of our professors to ridic pseudonyms that caught on like fire with the students, I remember crafting paper planes in class directed at a student/teacher with ridiculing note, I remember the girls toilet as a bastion of gossip and salacious rumors covering and uncovering everything from boys to bras and boys with bras, leaving none to spare which if translated into today’s world ie being a post on the online social media platform, none of us would have made it to college and certainly not the top tier. In fact, it would have followed me into my new life in the New World as Miss Goody Two Shoes, a life as an attorney, a wife and a mother with a banner atop my head announcing in psychedelic lights all the pranks of my childhood which no amount of lipstick or hairspray would have undone. I had a chance to outgrow my teens, to make mistakes, to learn and to grow up and start afresh. This option which my generation took for granted does not exist for our children, grandkids. Every tweet, post, bit and byte sticks like superglue for eternity. They have no options to jest, to play, to err, and to recover. 

As for my girls, I find them the most vulnerable group  and most severely compromised by this data driven world. Everything from beauty norms driven by the dictates of society to peer pressure to perform and please. If they express they are chastized and if they err they are compromised. Their errors haunt them and compromise them leading to a torrent of harassment, cyberbullying and deepfakes that often circulate well beyond the boundaries of their group or social circle. They have no where to go and no place to hide where the data trail of harassment can’t reach them…of course until they find le chat qui parle.

As the cases pile up and the judiciary struggles to figure how to address this new realm of information disseminating exponentially compromising all in its path… le chat or Purr-nima comes to the rescue…see lyrics below from ZAZ

Of course I couldn’t resist this Snapchat image in a cat costume…purr…erasing 30 years from my hard earned midlife and transporting me to high school!

Purrnima The Cat That Speaks – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

And again I take these lyrics from my fav song from ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue

Hey damn rascal, mind your tongue
I am the cat that will eat it
At this game you will not win
Sooner or later, one gets punished …we will find the baton to beat you

Hé, sale fripon, prends garde à ta langue
Je suis le chat qui te la mangera
A ce jeu-là tu n’y gagnera pas
Un jour ou l’autre, on récolte le bâton

Here the baton is the stick or the system of laws or structure to address the issues relating to the erosion of privacy that has come parcelled with advances in technology and the digital world.

ZAZ – Prends garde à ta langue

Since this is tale of Cats, I will have to end with a poster bearing my fave image illustrated by Steinlem for the Montmartre cabaret The Chat Noir, compiled in a book of posters by David Rymer and the image of my fav Chinese porcelain cat see below:

And on the subject of cats and cat photos, see Owen Mundy’s web based experimentation titled – I Know Where Your Cat Lives, where the artist-experimenter is able to track the location of the cats (or the location of the photo by the co-ordinates embedded in the metadata) based on all the publicly posted cat photos online highlighting the vulnerability of the average individual to privacy violations at the hands of the Big Cats or mega corporations that are effortlessly able to access and scrape private personal information that is “voluntarily” submitted. Exhibited at the Singapore Art Science Museum below:

I Know Where Your Cat Lives-Owen Mundy

Goodnight and sweet dreams 


What Did The Cat Say? Purnima Viswanathan


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Geneva Diaries #26*

Privacy, Coppet, Mdm De Staël, Met, Princess Broglie, Lucretia, 4th A


Dear Roger,

This story takes me back a couple years to a lazy spring afternoon, where I lay in my glorious garden bursting with flowers enjoying the sunshine of sunny California, when my little daughter came running out (to disturb my peace once again) and begged me to go through an old diary full of pictures.

The diary was full of graphics, artwork and many portraits. As I flipped through mindlessly, one struck home, an arrestingly beautiful face, an elegant manner, a gentleness, draped in blue silk but there was something more and I returned again and again to read it. I could not get that haunting look out of my mind and that’s how I was propelled onto this journey. I searched her, I googled, but did not get it then. All I got was that this was the portrait of Princess Albert de Broglie, married into the famous Piedmontese family (yes, some places keep returning… mythical Piedmont) that had emigrated to France in the 17th century, a family known for its literary achievements with noble laureates and members of the French Academy. I realized that this painting was a part of the Metropolitan Museum collection and thought that I was recognizing a face I had most certainly seen during my years in New York City and my many visits to the Met, so I put the whole thing out of my mind… no, no ghosts in this closet! Do see this fabulous portrait pasted below of Princess Albert de Broglie that so mesmerized me.

The Met: Princess Albert de Broglie

Then of course, as you know, life tumbled along and we found ourselves as inhabitants of magical Lake Acchoda… oops Lake Geneva. The two years passed with the usual ups and downs, as I continued determinedly on my journey to unwrap the ghosts of Geneva. It was then that I stumbled across Madame Germaine de Stael, who happened to be observing me curiously as I scampered through the streets of Veille Ville for the umpteenth time. Upon confirming that I was for “real”, she held out her hand and led the way. The rest of it is a heady dizzying adventure, my repeated walks through old town in search of her, the many nights of surfing in the the dark trying to read about her, read her and read what she had written for me. The journey took me through an enjoyable book about the first modern woman (Germaine de Stael), a visit to the Chateau in Coppet and that evening out to view the fireworks by the shore of Lake Geneva in Coppet (in celebration of Swiss National day see pics below).

Chateau Coppet:

Purnima visits The Chateau of Madame De Stael in Coppet 

The Chateau of Madame De Stael in Coppet – Photos by Purnima Viswanathan

Chateau de Coppet:

Coppet is charming small hamlet on Lake Geneva, just a stones throw from Geneva. It is here that Germaine de Stael’s father, Jacques Necker bought a chateau and settled down (see the Chateau of Coppet). Jacques Necker, a banker from Geneva who had settled in Paris achieved great wealth and prominence as the banker to the king, Louis XVI, and  his wife Susanne Curchod was known for one of the greatest literary salons in Paris. Germaine who was raised in this environment which helped hone her skills and intellect was known for her brilliant mind, liberal views and her many literary and political publications and her books (which I am dying to read) Corrine, The Considerations on the French Revolution and on Germany (an insight into the mind and culture of a people). 

Her salon in Paris was renowned and this she carried with her to Coppet when she fled during the “terror” thus transforming Coppet into the intellectual center of Europe, with the greatest liberal ideas of its time flowing through its doors, walking its grounds and dining at its table where it was said that more wit is expended in one day than in the rest of the world in a whole year. Her scintillating salon with its writers, artists, poets and critics where Germaine entertained novel ideas about liberty and constitutional monarchy thus seeding voices of dissent. This resistance to Napoleonic imperialism caused her to be under virtual house arrest in Coppet and for extended period of time barred from venturing near Paris, the place she most yearned for. So, this dynamic, modern, liberated woman who was not afraid of voicing her opinion and participating actively in the politics of her day either in Paris or Coppet, gathered around her all the luminous minds and voices she missed in Paris and thus grew the Groupe de Coppet.

Her personal life was deliciously unconventional, she had an arranged marriage to the ambassador of Sweden, Baron Stael von Holstein (for the title and the immunity it afforded her as the ambassadors wife) with whom she did not communicate, and then a series of glittering lovers like Talleyrand and Narbonne, Count Ribbing (the mastermind of the assassination of the king of Sweden-Finland) and most importantly Benjamin Constant. Benjamin Constant, a Swiss born French nobleman was the true love of her life (I’m afraid, my stories are always filled with True Loves and Dragons and we know where one large beast is lurking). Theirs was the most prominent intellectual pairing of their time, they not only shared their love and passion but their thoughts and ideas on liberty and constitutionalism (I have so much to read… it appears from one of my surfings, that Benjamin Constant, while comparing Liberty between the Ancients and the Modern, giving the example of the United States, essentially re-iterated the Bill of Rights and all that we take for granted today… just like me). Yes, somewhere I know, if I were Germaine, Benjamin would be my true love!   

See below a tour of Chateau de Coppet (in French):

Germaine had two boys and a girl who grew into adulthood and it was wonderful to hear that the descendants of her daughter Albertine still are in possession of the Chateau. Now comes the really interesting part… Albertine married Victor 3rd Duc de Broglie. Yes, the same brilliant literary Piedmontese family as mentioned above! In was while touring the final room of the Chateau de Coppet, that I saw those familiar eyes once again, and my hair stood on end…a portrait of Louise de Broglie, the same pose, the same blue dress of luxurious silk, the same lines! It was Louise de Broglie, the grand daughter of Germaine Stael, drawn by Ingress who apparently also later painted a portrait of her sister-in-law Princess Albert de Broglie, the one who had invited me on this journey in the first place probably peering at me from her mantle as I ambled along the corridors of the Met, whiling away my hours in New York. Louise de Broglie or countess D’Hausonville though married to a diplomat writer and a member of the French Academy was apparently herself no pushover, she was independent, outspoken and liberal and published a number of books.  This portrait of Louise de Broglie was acquired by the Frick and forms a part of their core collection (with my 100 percent approval as she is now French American and the face of the American woman I recognize).

Do you know the Frick, the fabulous New York Mansion in the 70’s and 5th bequeathed by the coke and steel magnate (when you guys give, its gargantuan)? I guess this is one way of importing the culture, the people, the magic of Germaine Stael. Check out the portrait of Louise at the Frick below:

The Frick Collection: Louise de Broglie/ Countess D’Hausonville

Of the many personalities that visited Coppet, Lord Byron was a prominent visitor often found by Germaine side during her not so well years. This was also probably around the time he composed the poem I keep returning to, the one that keeps churning in my mind, the one I have made mine, The Prisoner of Chillon. And, like Kadambari, somehow all the pieces fit, fall into place somewhere, sometime… but as I think of Byron and Germaine de Stael, ones who shared my passion for love and liberty, and as I think of liberty I fall into my usual self created tar pit/quicksand of “privacy“, as there is no liberty, in my opinion, without the protection of that sacred inviolable space, private place, which man takes for granted in society and one which is under repeated assault. And, its is only after we secure this space that we can dream of liberty.

With Byron back on the banks of lake Geneva, my mind drifts again and I also think of my blue bird, a story that seems to have flown far far away. But then I reassure myself, that my blue bird exists, my story exists, I dreamed it, I lived it and expressed it, it lies somewhere in some plane…a place that can never fly away… for we’ll always be together in electric dreams. Do check out my all time favorite movie/song “Electric Dreams” (a tune i was humming a lifetime and a continent away) on youtube:

Electric Dreams- (Phil Oakley)- We’ll always be together in Electric Dreams!

Still on the subject of journeys and daring and dynamic women, did I ever mention my trip to Basel to view the Van Gogh exhibit at the Kuntzmuseum, one of the cities most prominent museums? 

Basel Kunstmuseum:

Well, the exhibit we journeyed to visit was a suffocating squeeze with a gadzillion people nose to nose and all we wanted to do was get OUT of there. But in this desperate struggle for air, my kids slipped into a neighboring gallery which as a stark contrast, was completely empty. That is where my daughter spotted the art that would impact her life, “The Rape of Lucretia“. As expected, there were an endless volley of questions all the (long) way back home, about definitions of words and of course the story of Lucretia. I told her about the Etruscans unique culture and civilization that occupied most of Italy and their dominion over the mediterranean, the dynasties of ancient Rome from the 7th century BC onwards before the Republic, where women enjoyed an elevated status and liberty unknown to their Greek and Roman counterparts. The women participated fully in public life and were often literate. Here the goddess Menrva, the counterpart to the Greek Athena (Roman Minerva), unlike the Greek goddess who was a goddess of war, the Etruscan Menrva was concerned with matters of marriage and childbirth, which shows us that the women had a say in identifying the important duties for their prime deities.

Lucretia, this legendary figure of ancient Rome, a brave and determined woman, a legend to revere, was born into a high ranking Etruscan family, married into another aristocratic family. The story goes that the kings son, Sextus Tarquinius, paid a visit to the province to meet the governor, Lucretia’s husband, who was away on a campaign, instead Sextus stumbled upon Lucretia and testing her will to resist he raped her. This represented the degenerate and autocratic depths the monarchy had fallen into where one individual controlled the life and death of many and wielded this power ruthlessly, absolutely. This strong and determined woman in order to highlight the depths to which her society has succumbed, and how her vulnerability and helplessness was reflective of the helplessness of her society. She called upon her elders and made a public case with the intent of taking the kings son to task. It is here, in this central square that she thrust a knife between her ribs to make her final statement highlighting the degenerative state of Roman society where her most sacred inner sanctum, her emotional and physical space, her privacy was violated. Her words were not spoken from the glory of a podium robed in royal splendor but doubled over and drenched in blood at the feet of the men of her society that had failed to protect her. It is resulting from this act that we have the most evocative and powerful voice of a woman rebelling, speaking, taking a stand and making a case which is remembered across cultures and immortalized in art in “The Rape of Lucretia”. Pasted below is Botticelli’s version of the Rape of Lucretia with Lucretia lying drenched in blood with a dagger in her heart in the central square surrounded by the people who failed her.

Rape of Lucretia -Botticelli:

By Sandro Botticelli – The Yorck Project (2002) 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei (DVD-ROM), distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. ISBN: 3936122202., Public Domain,

Basel Kunstmuseum – Lucretia – Lucas Cranach the Elder / Public domain

Lucas Cranach the Elder / Public domain

Images of Lucretia in Art:èce_(dame_romaine)

By now you must have noticed, I can never seem to escape from the quicksand of privacy. After the long tale of Lucretia, I told my daughter that we each have our private space which we must hold true and secure, defending it with our last breath. As for myself, the space I cannot and will not permit anyone or anything to invade… is my mind. Unfortunately, because of the ludicrousness of my apprehension, I am unable to present my case but as a story, theatre. If this mind were compromised, violated, invaded, it would be more than a tragedy for one person, for I believe in this mind is the message of my people, the ancient chart that shows the best route for the eternaljourney to India” the words whispered into the ear of a two year old, the little hands held and guided and the mind exercised by the elders of my tribe. 

On this quest of identifying and securing the right to privacy, I venture back to the Bill of Rights, and find myself face to face with the 4th amendment to the US constitution– The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable search and seizure… warrant shall issue only upon probable cause… must particularly describe person or thing to be seized. This sounds like someone was trying to identify and secure “private space“, right to privacy. It was further clarified to include all areas where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, yes that phone booth with the closed door even if it is in a public place, your home, personal phone conversations, private mail/email and yes of course it must include your mind and thought waves!!

I was most excited to read Brandeis’s dissenting opinion (challenging that wiretapping does not fall within the ambit of search and seizure) recognizing its relevance in this fast evolving technological universe of today. He highlighted that at the time of the inclusion of the 4th amendment into the US constitution, the only conceivable seizure was through force and violence but we cannot limit the protections to the “then” imaginable forms of force and violence but must incorporate all such translations of force and violence that evolve with the evolution of technology. Thus where once a physical seizure was the only recognizable option, technology has evolved to assist persons to seize remotely anonymously, without any physical contact. Thus if we were to rely on any literal construction of these protections afforded by the constitution without translating them into todays world, it would be redundant thus diminishing the value of the entire document. 

The part where I do cartwheels is where Brandeis elucidates the rights guaranteed by the 4th amendment, ”  The most comprehensive of rights and the rights most valued by civilized men, to protect the right, every unjustified intrusion by the government upon the privacy of an individual, by whatever means adopted, must be deemed a violation of the 4th amendment”

Yes, this is truly all encompassing and as I see it (as long as you don’t stretch the “justified” piece),  includes all conversation communication, correspondence, in addition to the physical space where a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy

Once again, Roger, I reiterate, that like Lucretia, I wish to highlight and secure my most sacred, inviolable space, my mind, my thoughts my musings. And, if my mind has been invaded, seized and searched through any means of technology known or unknown, my stand must be as vivid and strong with its echos reaching into the hearts and souls of the blind and deaf men of my tribe. And, just like Lucretia, I must find a spot, a central place right in the heart where my presence and my words would carry, be heard. And, Bourg du Four beckons every time I pass, no not for Servetus, but for Lucretia. Yes, right here in the oldest fortifications, gates of the old town of Geneva, opposite the men chosen to safeguard the citizens and those chosen to administer justice, opposite the police and the Palais de Justice, that would be the fitting place for the final act: Yes, my mind has been violated, invaded, searched, seized monitored but not once and not twice but repeatedly, consistently, over an inconceivable stretch of time… and still there is silence!

See below Tarquin and Lucretia by Titian:

Do check out the song of our times, The Wall on youtube, great video.

Pink Floyd- The Wall (We don’t need no education, we don’t need no THOUGHT CONTROL… Hey Big Brother leave us kids alone!)

I now come to the last book, the final woman resting by my bedside and one whose life and fate is forever entwined with Geneva, The Empress Elizabeth of Austria. Empress Elizabeth of Austria, born Elizabeth of Bavaria, married at 16 to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria was renowned for her beauty and dynamism, recognized as the finest horsewoman of the 19th century. Her free spiritedness and liberal views made it difficult however to reconcile a life in court and she pursued her travels with a passion. Her particular fondness for the natural beauty of Geneva, brought her to these shores on the fateful day in 1898 where while walking on the promenade she was struck down with a sword to her chest by an anarchist Luigi Lucheni. Her wish was to die at the shores of the ocean and she often called Lake Geneva as vast and blue as the ocean, she did lie down by these banks and is immortalized by the sculpture of her on that spot. Pasted below is the mesmerizing sculpture that I pause at every time I walk across to the other bank.

Empress Elizabeth of Austria

Empress Elizabeth of Austria-Geneva Switzerland-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

It was fabulous to see you the other day at the museum cafe, I would love to coordinate a date to have you, how does the first weekend of September work for you (it will be just me and another friend). Good night and hope to see you soon!



Objet : Women!

Dear Purnima,

Yes, it was fabulous to see you last week at the museum café and to check out your new look.

And Coppet and Mme. de Stael !  She and George Sand (now, there is a literary personality that you really should add to your list of bedtime reading !) were two of the outstanding Francophone women writers of their time, but both in their own way.  Sand, a.k.a. Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, was one of the very first feminist activists in a society that didn’t, or couldn’t, tolerate a woman who wanted to be treated on equal terms with her male counterparts, thus the male pseudonym, but that’s for another chat. 

Cute pictures of you and the kids devant le Chateau de Coppet !

George Sand was a fascinating person and a very devoted writer.  She set a quota of pages to write each day, something like 50, and on most days she fulfilled her goal.  She had inherited a sizeable fortune from her mother, but French law at the time put all financial matters in the hands of the husbands.  Her husband, who didn’t approve of her writing nor of her desire to spend as much time in Paris as possible, had total control of the money she had inherited.  She had to beg him for an allowance that would enable her to survive while living in Paris, which he begrudgingly agreed to in the beginning, but eventually, he cut off her funding.  She adopted a male pseudonym and dressed like a male so she could get standing room tickets to the theatre, something that was not allowed for women at the time.  She had many lovers, but a long-standing relationship with Chopin, was probably the most important one.  An interesting women, and it is a serendipitous coincidence that we are chatting about her today, since it is the anniversary of the beginning of feminism in France.

And a pseudo for you !  I’ll have to give that one a lot of thought.

Hope you have a good end of the week.  When do the kids go back to school ?



Oct 7, 2020
Happy Birthday!

Dear Roger,
October 7th is a very special day for me for it’s the day I celebrate the birthday of two people dear to me, my aunt Renu with her love and steadfast support, and my friend  Roger who lifted me up from the Bear Pit in Berne and handed me the pen! 

Bear Pit in Berne:

WWF – The Brown BearWithin a period of 100 years, the brown bear was nearly eradicated from the Alps.

Brown bears in the Berne Bear appear cute and cuddly depending on your vantage point

The Berne Bear Pit

Happy birthday Roger, I hope the day brings with it lots of joy, love and laughter just like what you have shared over the years with all around you. I do look forward to our long anticipated meal together, perhaps when the stars align our paths again.
Hugs and love,

PS: I am still waiting for that long promised pseudonym (like your fav George Sand).

PSS: Don’t be fooled by the happy bear face in the link above, see the what happened to the last chap who found himself in the bear pit eyeballing the brown bear while i was there…in 2009:

See below – The Bear Attack Scene From The Revenant:


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Geneva Diaries #24*

The Matterhorn – Monte Cervino – The Italian Alps – Climbing Mt. Shasta


Dear Roger

Just spent the night at the recommended hotel and it was perfect, room, views, location and the breakfast was ok but the cherry on the topping was the old 1980s Euro-pop that brought back memories of fun dance parties and friends left behind.

I almost shed a tear when I hear “Gloria” whose name should now be replaced with “Purnima”!


(hear me sing this today, 20 years later)

Check out this video on YouTube:

Onto Zermatt.


Dear Roger

The train ride from Visp to Zermatt was enchanting, the vistas of quaint wooden homes with stone slabbed rooftops tinted with moss and embedded in the hillsides appeared almost alive, breathing, armored to face the next onslaught from the heavens/ hillsides. They certainly take the “sky is falling on our heads” seriously, i sensed in my bones that we couldn’t be far from Asterix and his charming hamlet. I was convinced that if I went knocking I would encounter all my fairytale characters complete with gnomes, gremlins, Getafix and the occasional Prince Charming.

See below stone slabbed rooftops – a view from the Italian side of Cervino – The Sleeping Giant:

Monte Cervino-Video by Purnima Viswanathan

At the end of this spectacular train ride we encountered the Snoring Giant lying prostrate with his gigantic protrusion, which has captivated and mesmerized millions across the globe, is embedded in California culture and wedded to the Yeti ( you could not convince a youngster from California that the Yeti is really associated with the “other” mountain range), yes, we are back to “the nose”. Don’t you see it, The Matterhorn as a large “buumpii” nose?!?

The Matterhorn:

We did take the Glacier Express enjoying seven hours of breathtaking scenery that left us gasping at every bend. 

The Glacier Express-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

I stopped clicking after a while and tried to inhale it all, hoping it would stay within me, enmeshed with me, as I continued on my endless journey. We reached St. Moritz by early evening and after giving my mother an hours break, i dragged her to see the lake ( i could almost read her thoughts that she would NEVER leave planning the itinerary to me), by this time we had all OD’ed on the spectacular. As I looked around, I found the brilliantly hued and multi textured wildflowers, and sighed that if I were to be reborn, how I would wish to be a wildflower on this hill with a view, my mother gasped, who unlike her heretical daughter, actually believes in rebirth and drew the line at my fantasies with a firm NO!

See The Glacier Express Below:



Dear Purnima,

Ah, your email made me so nostalgic for Zermatt and Le Cervin.  It took me

back to my first stay in Switzerland and a day-trip to Zermatt.  I had so

been looking forward to seeing that majestic Snoring Giant, as you call it,

but luck wasn’t with me that day.  It was a fairly sunny day, but there were

enough clouds in the sky that it made it impossible to get a clear view of

Le Cervin the entire time we were there.  We rode the cog train up to

Gornegrat, where we had a wonderful, unobstructed view of every mountain

surrounding Zermatt, but not the Matterhorn.  It remained enshrouded the

entire afternoon, as though there were some kind of magnetic field enticing

the clouds to cling to its summit.  I, however, didn’t have thoughts of

gremlins and Yeti (it was prior to my moving to Oregon and the vicinity of

Mt. Shasta, which has a fairly rich culture of Yeti sightings), only the awe

brought about by staring up at those towering peaks and wondering what it

would be like to climb them, but then reading of the first ascent of Le

Cervin by the British climber Edward Whymper in 1865 and the tragedy that

befell his climbing party on the way back down reminded me of the pitfalls

of such adventures.  (I did climb Mt. Shasta twice while I lived in Oregon,

but now am perfectly satisfied to live vicariously through the exploits of


See Mt Shasta below:

It must be a drastic change for you to be in flat, ordinary Strasbourg now

after all that alpine beauty, but the city does have its charms, especially

the old part around the cathedral with its fantastic clock.  The story our

guide told us during my first visit to the city was that the clock had been

in a state of disrepair for many years, and the city finally found someone

who was able to repair it and make it work again.  When he finished his

task, he was blinded by the city fathers so that he could not ever build a

rival clock for another city that might possibly put Strasbourg to shame.

I put Charlie on his Portland, Oregon bound plane (via Amsterdam) this

morning.  I enjoyed having him here, but it is also nice to return to a bit

of normalcy.

Do enjoy Strasbourg and your reunion with your old classmate. I hope it is

everything that you hoped it would be, but such encounters are often fraught

with pitfalls.

See you soon when you return to Geneva,


Valtournenche – The Italian Alps-Video by Purnima Viswanathan


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Geneva Diaries #23*

War, Prejudice and Human Nature, Data, Algos and Existential Crisis

Subject: Re: TR: Calvin Sloan — A Doctored History: An Interview With William F. Pepper

On Jul 17, 2010, at 12:22 PM, “Roger Stevenson” wrote:

Dear Purnima,

Here is an interview that Charlie sent me about Martin Luther King’s death.


by: Calvin Sloan, t r u t h o u t | Interview


Dear Roger

However much I admire the noble idea of egality, political and social equality, living through a socialist system, India in the 70’s, 80’s, I found the political and governmental expression fell far short of our ideals.  

It’s not just a matter of being rewarded for ones efforts and creativity, which is what you have managed to achieve in the US, I believe it’s a much deeper need, where man is not only rewarded (and this can be done in many ways other that the familiar material manner which can be as rewarding if not more)but, has an avenue for the expression of his art and efforts. A system where man can freely and fully express himself with minimal governmental involvement and where his efforts and expressions are protected. He should not need to get special licenses or sanctions which can be blocked or used as an excuse to extract when he goes about quarrying marble for the Sistine chapel (for example) or attempts to source the much valued blue pigment (do check out Michelangelo and The Pope’s Ceiling). The complexity of sourcing Lapis Lazuli only available in a particular spot in the northern mountains of Afghanistan, also known as the blue pigment Ultramarine and was often as expensive as gold see links below:

The Story of Lapis Lazuli/Ultramarine-blue pigment:

While building he must be assured that his designs and diagrams are protected. The final result of course, where such unhindered support is offered by the state is not just of value to the citizens and the sculptor but the state. The value of providing such a platform for free expression can never be overstated as it needs a certain environment to be fostered, and is often stirred from the passion of the soul. The artists art is often his real compensation and the rest sustenance. The case is similar for industry, science, education and all other expressions of man. 

However, pursuant to our discussions, I firmly believe that the driving motive must be reviewed, from value set on sheer numbers and productivity, a move to a more sustainable model, yes the Sistine chapel in natural biodegradable materials sourced and constructed in a environmentally sustainable manner. 

What do you think?   



Prejudice and Human Nature

Dear Purnima,

What a wonderful treat to awake to two marvelously crafted, as usual, emails.  And I really appreciate your thoughts on looking back at our roots and the difficulty one often has of adapting and being fully accepted in a different culture.  I’ve given all of this a great deal of thought over the past several years, especially after moving to France and viewing the States from a much different perspective.  I grew up in an America that was quite Pollyanna in the image that it created for itself both at home at abroad.  I think I actually bought into that myth of “manifest destiny” that was so often bandied about by fervent nationalists from various political and religious camps: America was special and had a divine calling to bring order and freedom to the rest of the planet.  It’s the land of milk and honey and opportunity, and you can throw in a few gold rushes here and there, the great melting pot where the homeless and poor from around the world are welcomed with open arms and encouraged to join together in this pursuit of idealistic hubris.  It was a country where even a lowly peanut farmer could be elected president and where justice and freedom reined for all.  My journey to awareness and a more complete understanding of all the forces that shaped the country was long and arduous and, for the most part, the product of living abroad and seeing ‘my country’ through the eyes of others.  I now realize that the racial inequality that supposedly ended with the Civil War was a distinct blemish on the American landscape.  The assassination of Martin Luther King (I was shaving in a hotel in Avila, Spain the morning I heard of his death).  I am now fairly convinced that he was not simply the victim of a white racist, but that he was eliminated by the powers in charge of what was fast becoming a plutocracy controlled by huge financial interests.  What King had set in motion and the kind of civil disobedience he was ready to unleash on the country was intolerable.  He couldn’t be allowed to continue.  But immigrants of many ethnic backgrounds were supposedly welcomed to the country, only to suffer the indignation and injustice of a society that was truly racist in so many ways.  The Chinese immigrants were used to build the railroads in the west and when they were finished, it was made perfectly clear to the Chinese that they were far from being first-class citizens like everyone else and were, in many instances, hounded out of communities where they were no longer needed.  What the country did to the Japanese living in America during WW II was unpardonable.  And I won’t take the time to go into all the military incursions, invasions, secret missions, assassinations abroad, massacres, etc., etc., etc., in order to provide a favorable climate and financial structure for American business interests.

But you really did hit the nail on the head when, in responding to my first bit about V’s experience with the US Embassy, you said that it was all a matter of mucho big bucks.  That’s all that has really ever mattered.  The other memes and narratives about idealism, freedom and democracy for all, were simply furthered by a propaganda machine involving the complicity of the main stream media.  It was really the advent of the internet and made it possible to look beyond the rhetoric.

I could go on for some time, but I’ve got to go fix some lunch for myself.

Thanks for the links to the two videos.  The Poumy film on Youtube was really great.  I can’t, however, say the same about the tune “Just an Illusion”




Dear Roger,

Its great to wake up to two responses from you and oh so quickly!

I have been on a long search for a synonym for prejudice across the spectrum of languages that I am familiar with in order to understand the word (and the cultural reference) a bit better. It’s incredible how different people interpret emotions so differently, which is then captured in language creating its own unique universe, a fun exercise for us to embark upon especially when there are no roots in common. And still on fun, think of these various languages as the people of America who come together to live, love and work thinking in different tongues where much is lost in translation.

During my numerous French lessons, I quizzed endlessly asking for a French translation of prejudice. I came across the word stigmate (in bill boards surrounding Geneva when I first arrived two years ago) which translates as scar, mark, not sure if that is the same as prejudice as we understand it assuming what we understand is the same, then I encountered honte which is really shame disgrace, and now the dictionary tells me its prejuge. Would love to get your feedback on the French.

Yes, I am more than aware that the US is riddled with prejudice, often as a shield, a cover for ignorance and a sense of inadequacy.  This immediately gives the wearer a sense of elevation as he identifies a distinction (not necessarily a weakness or flaw, but often just an difference that he is unable to identify or relate to exposing his inexperience and inadequacy) and used that distinction as a cause to discriminate. Of course, the discriminator must be either in the majority, thus setting the standards for the “acceptable” or in a position of power or influence.

This takes me back to my last email where I was pouring over identity and allegiance. Could you for a moment slip into my shoes understand my dilemma as I view your nation and ponder: to embrace or not to embrace. The print media, television, even film seem to keep generating the most hideous images of bewhiskered banditos jumping up and down in black petticoats brandishing blades and bazookas. I look forward to one morning where I don’t have to confront these hobgoblins with my morning tea. These of course are presented alongside with perfectly manicured Europeans in Italian designer suits who are debating how best to deal with the baddies! Bizarre, non? What is even more incredible is that these supposed banditos happen to come from Tora Bora and my neck of the woods. Where I come from, the markings of high culture(similar to your French obsession), reflected in art, poetry, literature, architecture, and even our cuisine, is pervaded by Persian influence over a millennia across the subcontinent specifically from the Mughal court and exists even today as an integral part of our culture. Whenever I think of Persia, I think of paradise, a land with fountains, art, poetry and verses of life and love. I think of miniatures (have you seen the Mughal miniature paintings?) delicately drawn highlighting a fine bone profile wielding a certain sophistication with elegantly dressed men and women in luxurious robes of silk and fine jewels a universe away from the images projected in the media. Our children and grandchildren, uncles and aunts who come from communities across the spectrum, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Zoroastrians, have Persian names, such a universe away from your “islamist” profiling. Such is a culture of a place and a people, and I wonder how I would explain myself, fully fit in to your universe…and so two decades later I hold out, I wait.

Do see Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi India below, built in the 1560’s a magnificent structure of red sandstone enclosed in this Persian inspired garden of paradise or Charbargh (Persian Chahar Bagh)build as the final resting place for this great Mughal emperor Humayun, son of Babur. Reflecting a classical Mughal design, this red sandstone and marble structure was the first garden-tomb built in the Indian subcontinent, a breathtaking structure surrounded by sprinkling fountains and water channels in a structure comprising of (chahar or char meaning four) four lush gardens accessed through large formidable gates is intended to leave all in awe as they enter and envision Humayun resting in the garden of paradise. See below:

charbagh can be defined as a quadrilateral garden divided into parts by water channels. The name comes from the Persian nd Urdu: چهارباغ chāhār bāgh, meaning ‘four gardens’. The oldest known garden of this type is at Pasargadae in Iran.

See my photos at The Humayun’s Tomb from my most recent visit below:

Purnima at Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi-Video by Purnima Viswanathan

Purnima at Humayun’s Tomb, Delhi-Video by Purnima Viswanathan:

Purnima at the Humayun’s Tomb Complex, Delhi-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

More on this topic later.




Dear Roger,

Still on the subject of prejudice, I revisit Strasbourg. Yes, I admit I was much to anxious to complete my email which stretched onto the early hours of the morning that I left out a most important experience, something I was keen to share and which prompted me head back to the writing table in the first place…a revelation!

As I wandered around the old town, the grand island, making my way to the breathtaking Cathedral, in what must have been the hottest day in Europe, a searing 38 degrees, I found myself questioning the series of unusual events that seemed to be unfolding around me which I have been unable to rationally comprehend. I sensed that the earth and the air wished to share their secrets, so I questioned them about prejudice as I walked around the cathedral asking why is it that people hate. Do people need to hate, do people look (find excuses) to hate, does hating something satisfy some innate convoluted desire within man, is there a receptor in the brain for hate (which unleashes serotonin and adrenalin) giving us a sense of satisfaction and a high?

See below the interior of the Strasbourg Cathedral:

Place Gutenberg-Strasbourg-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

What if the above is true and man looks for reasons to hate because it satisfies something within him? What if this is an integral part of human nature (I wonder how that puts us in any evolutionary advantage)? What then is the fate of our species if the “desire to hate”/prejudice is so integral to us? Thus recognizing this trait, what if man is fed with the excuses (catalyst) he unknowingly seeks that foster hate? 

As I walked around for the cathedral once again, exploring prejudice further in all its colors and excuses,  I saw in it a reality, a truth, an expression of human nature resulting in the world we see around us today of anger, bloodshed and war. Confirming to myself that we do look for an excuse to hate, to express our prejudice and this can be based on nothingness, a figment of someone’s imagination, a fantasy, so shallow is this emotion but equally strong is the need to vent/express it.

Good night.


See below an artwork by Ian Burn titled Xerox Book that best expresses this “fantasy” or “nothingness” basis for prejudice that when copied is magnified exponentially just like the blank sheet of paper in the Xerox Book which is copied a 100 times, and with each copy the visual noise is replicated till it turns from a blank sheet into a black one.

Prejudice, Data, Algos and Existential Crisis

Now imagine these automated processes dictating our lives where data is gleaned from a snapshot in history, a history rife with prejudice. Imagine this error replicating itself a hundred times and more creating shadow puppets of doom from what was originally a blank sheet. Imagine a world that has based its truth and existence on these shadow puppets and uses it as its basis to build it’s reality. Imagine the pundits, the leaders, the scientists, the computer engineers and philosophers reaching a point not far from today where they throw their hands up as they are unable to discern the underlying error in the algos as the stage of shadows has long replicated reality. This is our wake up call, to be implemented here and now as we tango to the seductive steps of all that tech offers, without adequate safeguards built into technology humanity is on the brink of an existential crisis.

Shadow Puppets Foreboding War:

By Curtain21 (talk) – I created this work entirely by myself., CC BY 3.0,

See below some fabulous examples of shadow puppets from Wayang or The Indonesian Puppet Theatre:



Dear Purnima,

Ah, my dear, you have opened that nasty can of worms of genetic, innate behavioral traits versus culturally acquired patterns, not to mention the dubious question of universal  tendencies as opposed to individual actions and beliefs.  I really don’t know if there is a definitive answer to the question you raise about prejudice.  My gut reaction is that it is mainly a cultural adaptation that individuals pick up during their formative years – they tend to react as those around them react to any given situation, and I doubt that there is a receptor in the brains for hate.  At least I hope that is the case.  However, when you look at the world around us and the increasingly frequent examples of prejudice towards others, which often leads to unspeakable acts of violence against another ethnic or religious group, it certainly give one cause to wonder.  And yet, there are many, many people who seem to be motivated not by hate and some kind of perverse pleasure derived from hating, but by a sincere desire to express empathy and compassion for others and to try and make the world a better place.  I have to assume that the very existence of such individuals who were not motivated or programmed to hate would be evidence that your conclusion in Strasbourg is not totally valid.

You asked earlier about a translation for prejudice.  Your final suggestion that préjugé might be the best one is right on.  If you break the word down, it really means a pre-existing judgement of something or someone = avoir des idées préconçues.  And I would put forth that most of those preconceived opinions are acquired rather than innate.

I tried to think if I truly hated anyone.  While I certainly could state that I have cause to hate a few individuals, George Bush Jr. for example who started the war in Iraq that eventually led to the death of Sergio Vieira de Mello – one of the finest individuals I have met in my lifetime.  I think I truly hated GWB the night Sergio was killed, but I don’t derive any kind of pleasure from that emotion, and don’t dwell on it very much.

I read an article in The Guardian last week about the very best all-time great drama series produced for TV, and the top of the rather long list was the BBC’s adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.  I have downloaded the entire series and started watching it.  It stars that delicious actor Jeremy Irons, and is one of the most literate and marvelous adaptations of a novel I have seen, and I am savouring every moment of it.  And I see that your fellow countryman Aravind Adiga has a new novel out, Between the Assassinations.  Have you read it ?  I’ll have to pick it up and add it to my ever-growing pile of books on my nightstand.

Have a great evening,


Dear Roger

As I lie between my two slient bed partners in the cemetiere du roi, Candolle seems to stir pointing me in the direction of “natures war”, the precursor to Darwins survival of the species and the struggle for dominance.

Do you think perhaps we are still continuously in a state of war, programmed to be so? And that we use excuses like prejudice to engage in war (especially since we have created power hungry structures that close all other avenues for conciliation), thereby asserting dominance and control aspiring to do what has been done throughout evolution, ensure our specific genes retain an advantage.


See below Candolle resting at the Cimetiere de Plainpalais in Geneva, Switzerland:


Dear Purnima,

So war is the means by which the strongest elements of the species maintains their superiority over the weakest elements.  Does that work for conscious beings who are capable of making reasoned and rational decisions ?  Is there a ‘war gene’ that somehow programs us to mount armed conflicts that will guarantee the survival of the fittest ?  What a conundrum !




Envoyé : lundi 19 juillet 2010 10:43

Dear Roger

You said in the previous email: 

“It was really the advent of the internet and made it possible to look beyond the rhetoric”

You do mail some juicy tidbits that I can’t afford to lose, I would love to hear more! And of course about that intimate story that brought out such an intense emotion. 

Still on the topic of the Internet, I think that this could possibly be our salvation (or suicide, u tell me) If we do possess that innate trait to engage in war. 

However rational and logical we might appear( and you had brought this up as mankind’s saving trait, I am not quite sure), have we not heard those very same rational voices being deployed through history to persuade the persuadable (with our thirsty receptors aching for an excuse), to engage in war. 

Perhaps, we could live not only our passions but fears and aggression through the virtual world. Fighting, acquiring dominating chatting and perhaps even having sex. 

  Its very possible that we will create this alternate reality to live as we are perhaps innately programmed to do and use our “real” world to sleep. Flipping life as we know it. Would that make a better world?

On my way home this afternoon, hope to see you very soon!



Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Geneva Diaries #22*

Miranda, Graubunden, Tarasp – Walk Down The Brahmaputra


Sun, May 23, 2010, 11:48 PM

Dear Purnima,

I have long since ceased to be surprised about any of the actions of the US government in the area of constitutional rights.  Since 9/11 and Bush’s declaration of war on terrorism, the Homeland Security Department has run rough shod over the rights of citizens (and non-citizens)!  What bothers me even more than the seeming disregard of the Miranda Rights is the total disregard of those same fifth and sixth amendment rights for anyone suspected of even the slightest collaboration with the so-called terrorists.  The many prisoners held for years at Guantanamo in a kind of legal black hole with no rights to legal counsel, a swift and fair trial, no incarceration without proof of wrongdoing, etc., etc..

A slightly related topic. Did I tell you that the family has decided to leave Spain and move to California (Ventura)?  I’m not so sure that I will feel really uncomfortable going to visit them there, and I will miss going to Valencia.  We really like the place.

I loved your description of your trip to Chur, Tarasp Castle – I had no idea it was such a charming site, and the picture of you hugging the bearded Swiss mountain gnome is priceless.  Did you realize that you are standing on your tip toes, extended vertically as well as horizontally?

And your tale of going off in search of the source of the Brahmaputra at the age of four brought back vivid memories of a similar adventure I had as a young 3-4 year-old in the mountains surrounding our home.  I wasn’t looking for anything as poetic as the source of a mighty and mythical river, but the effects of my disappearing in the middle of the afternoon with my best friend (another Roger) were very similar.

Have a great Monday and see you tomorrow or Thursday.



Dear Roger,

What’s going on??? From my bunker in the hills I hear stories about things considered sacred in America, a household name: the Miranda Rights, protection against coerced confessions made by persons in police custody being mutilated (apparently the AG is asking congress to enact legislation codifying an exception to the Miranda rule in the case of a terrorism suspect). An appropriate song for my current state of mind, do check it out.

What’s Going On by my fav Cyndi Lauper (of the Girls Just Want To Have Fun fame and my theme song… just hope the Big Macs and Beef Burgers are listening to the music :)))

Miranda Rights based on the 5th amendment to the constitution ( right against self incrimination/Right to remain silent) and the 6th amendment (right to counsel/legal help) which every man woman and child has taken for granted reflected by the courts which have upheld it as they have been averse to overrule Miranda for the last 34 years, subsequent cases have in fact reaffirmed it by stating that unwarned (un-mirandized) statements may not be used as evidence. 

Popular culture through American TV programs, motion pictures, songs, media all seem to reiterate this right as core,  a right which appears to have become so integral to a culture. Even a seven year old kids playing Cops and Robbers will playact asking for an attorney before speaking to his friend The Cop. In the instance of the Times Square bomber, which really blew things up (to me it looks like the bomb actually went off as the repercussions of the act, the far reaching impact of the preventive measures destroying something core/dear to a nation, appear to be many times worse than the actual physical impact of the bomb). It does not take a rocket scientist to understand that upon arrest you can invoke your fifth, even a seven year old can playact that. The Times Square bomber and others like him who have the smarts to build a bomb, plant it and plan an escape, would most certainly know to ask for their attorney (like that 7 year old) and would not need to be reminded of their rights necessarily, as was the case with the Times Square bomber who spoke before being mirandized and continued to speak as easily after. The persons who WILL suffer if we chip into this armor, this safeguard of the 5th amendment granted through the Miranda Rights, is the minority/ low income immigrant community, single mother in a ghetto who has stayed away from school because she is pregnant with her second child and is now facing arrest and interrogation because her drug dealing boyfriend has left his stuff in her locker( drug money could easily be stretched by savvy attorneys to have terrorist links). She is the one who needs to be Mirandized, informed, guided, jolted out of her hysteria and told that society has some help out there for her, because it would all be irrelevant if  we were unable to uphold some core values : Presumption of innocence until proven guilty( do we not agree that we would free a 100 guilty men before hanging an innocent one?)

 In fact CJ Rehnquist wrote in 2000 Dickerson decision that Miranda warnings had ” become so embedded in routine police practice to the point where the warnings have become a part of our national culture”. Somewhere this seems to me to form the core, the fabric of the people, a cultural evolution, something people take for granted in a society (as the French with their privacy) what is that if not somehow enmeshed and becoming a part of the constitution of a people? I have been exploring these core ideas/rules which I understand to form the basis of our society, and am concerned about “the checks and balances” which all might be “persuaded” to do away with “in these times of terror”, The Queen of Hearts would say”Off with your head”, “Off with all your heads, both the ‘tellectuals and the terrorists”, we do have a pretty collection accumulating in our backyard now, don’t we? I would love your thoughts on this. Do check out this rap version of the Miranda rights with my all time favorite star Tom Hanks.

Miranda Rights:

OK, so over with the intense stuff, now I must share with you my incredible journey to Graubunden, exploring the easternmost canton of Switzerland. As I mentioned in my earlier mail, I was bubbling with excitement because not only did it have my much fantasized about peak the Weisshorn with its namesake in my neck of the woods, The Weisshorn Solang, but also the fact that the flag of the canton of Graubunden has a majestic black ibex rearing on its hind legs signifying freedom, independence, swiftness and bravery, all the qualities that I so admire!

See below The Alpine Ibex from Alpenzoo, Innsbruck:

The Alpine Ibex-Alpenzoo, Innsbruck- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

See below: Flag of the Canton of Graubünden in Switzerland

Flag of the Canton of w:Graubünden in Switzerland
By Unknown author – offizielle PDF, Public Domain,

We first drove to Chur, the capital of the canton, a with a settlement which dates back 5,000 years located at the foot of the most important alpine passes. A charming town with old cobbled streets and fountains carved with the most ferocious facial expressions to the extent that they were comical. These reminded me of fairytale goblins who patrol the passes extracting their due fee for safe passage.

In fact, the next day on our way taking the road via Davos and over the high and very dramatic Fluella pass, with sheer icy mountainsides stretching endlessly on either side, I witnessed nature in its stark raw beauty and realized how in a flicker millions of tons of snow, rock ice could tumble upon us from any nook and extinguish us forever, it was avalanche season, making me realize how insignificant and helpless we really are. These passes are remnants of a pre Roman time and my mind wandered to the fierce and formidable people who used to patrol and maintain this pass (and do so even now), a gargantuan task! And it brought my mind to the numerous Swiss men I see with their teddy bear looks and cute goatee beards, are essentially a people of the mountain, hardy stock that have for millennia patrolled the passes, been in sync with communication, information. Know through the caravans that pass through (and often have to pass through) their passes the pulse of the world, the treasures hidden, the secrets carried, a value far greater than the toll they extract for safe passage. Yes, the Swiss seem to have stayed synced, and do wield an impact in the passes of today, one where financial information flows, and through this maintain their edge, with a birds eye vision of the world as everything is entwined with finance. 

Driving through Fluela Pass below:

As we crossed the Fluella pass onto the lower Engadine, a mythical, magical place I cannot write enough about, and made our way to the charming towns of Scuols, Vulpera and Tarasp, I was reminded of the Swabian wars, or the Engadine Wars where the Swiss confederates squabbling over the control of some passes engaged into an intense war with the Habsburgs who had Swabian support. The Swiss with their military skills and determination routed a much superior force of the Swabians and massacred them as they fled with their infamous and much feared most menacing weapon: the halberd. The Halberd was a long pole with a large axe head on one side and a smaller cutter on the other, later the tip had a pike. Today it’s the ceremonial weapon of the Swiss Guards. With this they could slash and pierce every armor and were a threat to every mounted warrior. This edge that the Swiss acquired with this notorious weapon reminded me of the modern day edge they must have with their patrolling of the modern day passes: the ability to pierce any corporate veil and unmask any armor/identity as everything is so closely tied with the passage of money. What do you think?

See below a Swiss Guard with The Halberd:

We stayed at a charming hotel that looked like a little palace on a hill in Scuol with a room with the most mind blowing view, which the camera refused to capture and embarked upon an adventurous walk up the mountainside to the Tarasp castle. This is a place that I cannot describe, all i can say is that in my mind this is the place I always journey to. 

Tarasp Castle-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
Tarasp Castle-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
Tarasp Castle – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Tarasp Castle:

This was my dream! I spin through time and the decades fly before my eyes as I find myself, a four year old (I still have a vivid memory of that time) with my parents in an incredible old British colonial home on the top of a hill in the town of Gauhati in Assam. The house had the most magnificent gardens stretching all the way down the hill and at the bottom the mighty river Bhramaputra flowed. 

See Brahmaputra below:

See below: The widest river in the world: Mighty Brahmaputra and floods

This is not our house in Gauhati, Assam but a hotel called Brahmaputra Jungle Resort for a flavor of Gauhati:

Assam Governor’s House:

Just like Tarasp castle a landmark of the lower Engadine, built a millennia ago, poised on the top of a hill surrounded by a magical setting, a home for the governors of Austria till the 19th century; similarly, I was told this house has been taken and was converted to the Governors house in Assam. The Bhramaputra, the largest river in India originating from Tibet flowing across the plateau, through the deepest gorge through the Himalayas and finally passing Assam, my home on its way to join the Ganges in the delta of the Sunder-bands. There has been much local lore, many myths and stories around this magnificent river, but the one comes to mind is the age old tale of  lord Brahma the creator(one of the trinity), enchanted by Amodha wife of the brahmin Shantanu(the gods are truly relentless), asked her to make love to him. He then magically inseminated her (this is where they don’t seem to have any fun) giving birth to the mighty river Bhramaputra, or son or lord Brahma.

Well, here goes the true story, at the grand age of four, I decided I must embark upon an adventure. So, I took the hand of my friend of the same age, the cooks daughter (a cook who had served as my fathers man Friday on his numerous adventures in the Himalayas) and decided to find the source of the Brahmaputra. So, we walked and we walked and we walked down the hill and along the river for miles while the entire household, was going ballistic with gardeners, cooks servants running up and down looking for ‘baby”. Mom broke down realizing that this was going to be a long journey with her child who really belonged to the “other” (fathers) side. All this while, I was really looking for a way across the river to the forest of pixies (promise you, a true story that I remember vividly), but could not find a way to get across. So, i walked and walked and walked hoping that one day I will find a way to get across the river to the land of the pixies. Well, I did. I crossed the river but this was not the Brahmaputra but the river Inn (in the Engadine), and walked up the hill to Tarasp castle a place that came closest to that dream of the land of the pixies of my youth. Well, guess what, I did make it to Tarasp castle, it was picturesque but there was not a pixie in sight. Finally in the distance, I discovered the one I was searching for all my life, the one I ran down the hill and along the Bhramaputra for; upon seeing him, I clasped my arms around him and gave him a long kiss, even though he had been turned to stone, yes a life size sculpture of a Pixie/Gnome(do see picture pasted below):

Purnima and the Engadine Gnome:

Purnima and The Engadine Gnome- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

As for my journey down the Bhramaputra, it all ended well as some worker recognized us and took us back up the hill to a furious and frenzied crowd. There were slaps, a bath and lights out.

We visited the other charming villages of the Engadine like Ardez which had homes with beautifully depicted facades especially one with Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, see below Purnima in the Garden of Eden:

Purnima in Ardez – The Garden of Eden – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Zuoz and Guarda with the sgraffito, designs etched onto the cemented facades distinctly reminding me of other northern Italian journeys the Italian influence making the designs strikingly attractive. 

Visions of the Engadine and Tarasp from my lens:

The Engadine-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
The Engadine-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
Tarasp Castle-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
The Engadine-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

The villages were silent other than the church bells but the sculptures seemed to possess a life of their own and dance around the central square to mimic the life and humanity of the silent villages. Since Graubunden is the land of Heidi, we decided to take a walk around Heidisee (the lake) with our little Heidi, Tara. Our final destination was St. Moritz where after three days together we barely managed to avoid drowning each other in the icy waters of the glorious lake!

See pics below of a ski trip to St Moritz with my ski buddy (Smithy) GF.

on a later trip traversing scenic Zuoz and Graubunden with the same friend:

On a later trip…Traversing scenic Zuoz and Graubunden-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Good night and I look forward to seeing you on Tuesday!


De : purnima bajpai 
Envoyé : jeudi 10 juin 2010 21:08
À : Roger Stevenson

Dear Roger,

It was wonderful to see you this afternoon!

I do hope you got my missing forwarded email(three in fact), am very concerned that I may be pouring into a spam folder.

Hope to hear from u soon!


On Wed, Jun 9, 2010 at 5:57 PM, Roger Stevenson <> wrote:

Yes, of course!

See you then

Roger Stevenson

—–Message d’origine—–

Envoyé : mercredi 9 juin 2010 16:43
À : Roger Stevenson

Great, see u tomorrow around 12:30!

Do u still eat seafood?


On Jun 9, 2010, “Roger Stevenson”

Hi, That was quick.

Anything you cook without meat will be delicious, I’m sure !

See you sometime between noon and 12:30.


Envoyé : mercredi 9 juin 2010

Lunch tomorrow sounds great, I will happily cook. Is there anything particular u enjoy?


On Jun 9, 2010, “Roger Stevenson” wrote:

Dear Purnima,

Did my last email end up somewhere in cyberspace unread ?  I’m really sorry if it did.  I’ll copy it below.

How does tomorrow look for you?  I’ll be in Geneva on my way back from Gland around 12 or 12:30.  Want to go lunch?  If it’s too late of a notice to do it at your house, we can go somewhere else downtown.  Let me know what you think.

I have a delicious tale about an ear fetish to tell, but I’ll wait until tonight to send it.

That sounds frightful about your ear drums.  Do you know what caused it? My first reaction is to think it’s the result of your shouting matches with Myrko.

Hope we can connect tomorrow.

Sent last Weds.

Dear Purnima,

Your comments about the increasingly inadequate print media really hit home, and I agree entirely with your eloquent complaint.  In planning our trip to Japan we almost exclusively used on-line sources. We found them for the most part to be far more up-to-date and often much more interesting and factual than the usual blurbs you find in the printed guide books.  We also used a couple of printed guides that we had bought – The Rough Guide to Japan proved to be very good, and another Lonely Planet guide to Tokyo wasn’t bad, but things change so quickly, especially in Japan, that it is impossible for a printed edition to remain on top of things considering the time lag that occurs from one edition to the next.  We have actually embarked on a rather ambitious project that we have already begun work on: an on-line guide to using the internet for planning a trip to Japan.  It could be constantly and continually updated very easily.  We have scoured the internet and found nothing at all like it yet.  We did a rough outline of what we want to include before we left, and we collected a lot of material and made tons of notes during our travels.  Now we just have to find the time to complete it. I’ll keep you posted and even pick your brain at times for some suggestions, if I may.

I was hoping to have the time to take you up on your wonderful invitation to lunch at your place this week, but it has been a busy week.  How about next Thursday?  That would work well for me and I will be coming into Geneva that day.  Let me know if that suits your schedule.  My mouth waters just thinking about it.

We finally found a car to buy – a Toyota Corolla (Yes, we dare buy a Toyota in spite of the recall fever).  It is a 2006 and was owned by a Toyota employee in Lyon who took exceptional care of it.  It only has 53,000 kilometers on it and is really in immaculate shape and has all the little frills of interesting options, including a little radar system that beeps when you are backing up and approaching an obstacle. We’re going to take the train to Lyon Saturday morning to pick it up and then take it for an inaugural drive to a little village north of Macon called Cuisery.
It’s a so-called “book village” and there are literally dozens of small, used book stores in the village, and on Sunday morning there is a larger open-air market for used books.  I love browsing through used book stores looking for lost treasures.

Speaking of books, have you read Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger? It won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.  I bought it the other day and  I’m hoping to learn more about your country and culture from it, besides having a good read.  I’m now into another Murakami novel, Dance, Dance, Dance, which is really the continuation, or better yet, the companion novel to A Wild Sheep Chase.  I am constantly amazed at the man’s ability to spin an absolutely outrageous tale and do it with such marvelous prose and wild and
interesting characters, and then there is always that underlying
aspect of the other reality on the opposite side of the mirror.

Any wild plans for the weekend ?  It’s supposed to be summer-like

See you next week, I hope.

Roger Stevenson

Fri, Jun 11, 2010, 4:58 AM

Dear Roger, 
I so enjoy cooking for u, u seem to genuinely appreciate all my efforts! It was great to see u and I am glad u got to meet my dear friend. On the topic of my concoctions, are you game for more wordy ones, I have a long weekend ahead?
Did I mention that I might be returning to The Costume Store to exchange “the nose” for a less conspious one, but I plan to keep the bushy eyebrows! Oh, “the nose” has served me well over the years, everytime I plan to break the bank and rescue that treasured hand bag from it’s glass encased security enclosure, i get a self imposed reality check; As I prance and preen viewing my reflection in every mirror humming to myself (Right Said Fred)…I’m too sexy for my body (see below) the profile immediately jolts me back to toonville and I see how ridiculous I look. Saved by the nose again!
And then there is the routine immigration stop at the US border where they must have my mug shots posted in all my colors as they seem to see right through my every disguise. As i say Namaste, The immigration officer looks up and invariably responds” Give it up Chief Inspector (Clouseau), we know it’s you”.
Check out this video on YouTube:

Will write soon!



Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

The Ballad of The South

Privacy and The Right to be Forgotten, Cyberlaws, Revolutionaries, France-Pondicherry, Pirate Ships-SMS Emden, WWII , Tiger-RAF
My Letters To Suchi #69 – The Ballad of The South

August 25th, 2021

Remembering a long lost Tale of The South on this day, August 25th, 2021.

On this day 77 years ago, on August 25th, 1944, the last thread that connected us, my family, to Madras met a fiery but valiant end on a green field in Normandy, France.

See my granduncle “Tiger” Sayana P.D.Thyagarajan RAF, Squadron Typhoon below (screenshot from video in Aircrew Remembered link below):

Tiger Thyagarajan-Screenshot from video in Aircrew Remembered-By Purnima Viswanathan
Tiger Thyagarajan-Screenshot from video in Aircrew Remembered-By Purnima Viswanathan;

Here is a snapshot of the The Ballad Of The South, The story of southern freedom fighters: Lawyers, Revolutionaries fighting the British Raj; Saints-philosophers-revolutionaries supported by the French; Musical maestros turned covert spies; passionate young RAF officers raised in the homes of the revolutionaries; the ICS, the pillars of The Empire; WW 1 and WW2; The Battle of Normandy; Pirate ships, Germans Bombs in Madras; Burmah Shell Co; The Swan of The East and other magnificent creatures…

Purnima Viswanathan

– – –

From: Purnima

Date: Mon, Dec 12, 2016

Subject: The Ballad of the South and To Forget or Not to Forget

Dear Suchi,

Before I wrap up for this abominable year 2016, I find myself limping to my desk to complete this leaf from my diary: The Ballad of the South – To Forget or Not to Forget.

If you want to skip the legalese covering The Right To Be Forgotten just scroll down to the spicy Ballad of the South sure to excite if you are a military history buff.

The issue on everyones lips in the legal world appears to be around the issue of The Right to be Forgotten. As you may be aware, the Europeans culturally have very stringent privacy standards, an issue they almost define with their identity. The Americans on the other hand ascribe the same stringent standards to the Freedom of Expression, thereby resulting in something that can only be construed as The Clash of Civilizations in its truest sense. This has manifested itself in the now (in)famous Google case in France where the French court has ruled effectively that a persons data is their own, and if it is inadequate, irrelevant, no longer relevant or excessive a person can request for links to that search be removed by Google. Re-iterating a person’s Right to be Forgotten.

However, Google’s position which has been supported by a number of US civil rights organisations including the EFF (article below) believes that CNIL, the French regulatory authority position is excessive as it demands that not only should the search results be removed from the European sites like and and (which after a struggle Google has recently complied with) but all sites worldwide. However, Google has appealed CNIL’s position to the highest French court challenging its order to remove all the links across the whole wide world. This according to Google would set a dangerous precedent as other not so democratic countries may want unsavoury information about their acts of repression also removed. This would also infringe US laws resulting in stifling speech in the US.

This is such a fascinatingly complex issue, I’m going to try and reduce it to its bare bones with clips and illustrations trying to identify the issues and balance the argument. 

First of all, can you imagine a universe with eternal memory…well that’s where the internet is taking us (I honestly see no escape). Imagine NOT being unable to forget the pain of a parents demise, the pain of a lost child, the pain of childbirth, honestly if each memory lay vivid in our imagination all day everyday, it would be a trauma to live, to awake to a new dawn, to try again, to cross the finish line, to cradle a bundle of joy. And yet, some memories serve a wonderful purpose for we remember to turn off the stove, we remember to wedge the baby with cushions as we prepare its feed, and we remember to look left and right before crossing the street (literally and metaphorically), and we remember to stub out our cigarettes before we dispose of them least we have all of our golden hillsides and Berkeley in flames again.

However there is a medical condition called Hyperthymesia where a person cannot forget, has full memory of all the events that have dotted his/her past. See the brilliant NPR article below and the associated nightmare of not being able to forget. Also see below the Telegraph article about the Channel 4 documentary on the same issue. These are real issues and the Europeans are justifiably passionate about them. Viewing it from an American perspective, we have to recognise the dilemma presented and the cultural basis from which it stems. Remember we creatures on the Galapagos have now forged our own unique culture.

NPR: When Memories Never Fade The Past Can Poison the Present

The Telegraph: The Boy Who Cant Forget

See below the articles by The Guardian and Peter Fleischer (Google):

The Guardian – Google takes the right to be forgotten to the highest court:

Google is appealing to France’s highest court so that it is not compelled to censor search results worldwide. “We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate. But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries – perhaps less open and democratic – start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach?”

Reflecting on the Right to be Forgotten – Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel

Fletcher outlining his position as defending the right of each country to balance the freedom of expression and privacy it chooses, not what is imposed upon it, ie, what another country chooses for it. Delisted links on all European versions of google search like, and in March 2016 also removed links from so that persons from countries requesting delisting could NOT access the requested blocked links. CNIL request based on the EU Right to be forgotten is that it be blocked from everywhere, ie, every country on the globe.

Finally, but most significantly, The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation, see article below) has come out in support of Google position stating that it has an issue with France’s unilateral declaration of universal jurisdiction, ie, that France cannot unilaterally decree what a global citizen, not resident in France (or the EU) can view or not view. They cannot dictate the terms of the world’s viewership and access as it is out of their jurisdiction. Specifically by highlighting US law and the US position on the Freedom of Expression:

– US publishers have a right to publish truthful information (acquired legally) pertaining to a matter of public interest even if it conflicts with privacy interests

– US publishers have the right to publish information contained in public court documents

– Accurate republication of statements made during official proceedings

– US law protects internet intermediaries (like Google) based on content provided by 3rd parties 

– The Right to receive information, advertise and be advertised to (would all be compromised by CNIL’s regulations)

EFF – Right to be forgotten

Rights at Odds: Europes Right to be Forgotten Clashes with US Law

In my (first generation immigrant) opinion, there needs to be a balance between right to privacy and freedom of expression as without privacy there can be no freedoms. The court protected publication of a sexual assault victim’s info (Daily Mail Rule as mentioned in the EFF article above) and publication of documents of persons who have been rehabilitated and merged back into society, in my opinion upsets this fine balance as society aims not just to punish but protect, rehabilitate and reincorporate persons into society giving them a second chance, and this goal of society would be stripped if records of misdeeds are always front and centre looming for eternity. No one would be motivated to reform, rehabilitate as they would be no exit from jail time in jail or out in society. We also have to recognise that publication in the online sphere is not mere publication of a document like ink on paper, but like the printing press which served to propagate news across a broad spectrum but still contained it within a certain geographic region, publication in the online sphere is nothing like the printing press or publications that man has known before, for it publishes information exponentially, as there are no boundaries or barriers to the propagation of this information. I would still like to adhere to the basic tenet: To Err is Human, To Forgive Divine. And would hope that laws made by humans for humans would take that into consideration.

My opinion falls more in line with the following comment by Julia Powels (Univ of Cambridge researcher on Law and Technology) taken from her article below: There is a public sphere of memory and truth, and there is a private one. This is fundamental to higher, egalitarian values. Without the freedom to be private, we have precious little freedom at all.

Jimmy Wales is wrong: we do have a personal right to be forgotten

Julia Powles (a law and technology researcher at University of Cambridge)

However, all said and done about privacy, I too don’t believe it is or should be in the jurisdiction of one nation or group to determine the mode, form or fashion of information generated and accessed by all of humanity. Perhaps this dilemma about the Right to be Forgotten, EU customs V US customs, will provide us with the opportunity to define the issue. Very simplistically:

Who decides, which one makes the call about what is correct and acceptable, the procedure to follow – ie – The Code of the Net

Can any one country dictate this code based on the customs and code in their territorial space and expect it to be applied universally across this new realm – the Net

– All this boils down to the core issue of what is the Code of the Net, which laws apply and how do the customs culture and laws the nations of the world translate into this cybersphere

– There is a need for consensus in both the territorial and cyberworld. The laws of the territorial world we have already seen cannot be blindly imposed upon the cyberworld and expected to be seamlessly applied. The denizens of the cyberworld might not fall into the neat categories of the territorial nations they physically inhabit or are aligned with, they may each have their own identity and allegiance online. They may be grouped based on a distinct philosophy, they may have acquired value/ status in the cyber realm not based age and education but interaction and presence, contribution to the expansion of the cyberworld thus generating value in this space as opposed to the real world. We already have a host of undefined tax issues relating to the same. 

– However these are humans inhabiting this world so they are bound to fall into philosophically and ideologically distinct groups which will represent the Nations of the Net. Eventually any laws passed by the nations of the real world would also require to have consensus amongst the Nations of the Net which at this point appear to be ruled by Pirates as they attempt to escape the real world and take shelter in this alternate space. Only upon getting the consensus of the Pirate Lords can the codes that originate in the real world have any hope of being applied in the cyber world.

See clip below of my fav movie of all times The Pirates of the Caribbean. Pirates of the Caribbean  At World’s End – 

This is a classic tale of the establishment /oppressive powers of the British Colonists, Spanish Empire and The East India Company versus the anti establishment fighting for their right to exist and express represented by the Pirates. 

 In the following clip from the above movie the Pirate lords convene in Shipwreck Cove to elect a pirate leader who would unleash Calypso. See below Peter Coffin’s Pirate at The De Young Museum, San Francisco below:

Peter Coffin’s Pirate at The De Young Museum, San Francisco – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

From the above linked article: Coffin emailed to make his point of view clear: “I believe the spirit of San Francisco still embodies the ideas of ‘the West,’ where dreams come from, where the frontier expands to the ocean, etc. That sense … is closely tied to its unwillingness to be restricted, its history of resistance and its fight for freedom against authoritarianism.”

Our story continues…Feng, the Singapore pirate lord appoints Elizabeth Swann as his successor as Pirate Lord before dying. Thus Elizabeth’s presence at the Brethren Court ( and I am of course Elizabeth Swann in an alternate world being appointed by Feng Gic, the Pirate Lords of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca). Upon identifying themselves and confirming their attendance with their pieces of eight, the Pirate Lords are compelled to vote for a Pirate King upon whose command Calypso would be released. Each pirate of course votes for himself, but here Jack Sparrow votes for Elizabeth Swann and she gets elected as the Pirate King. 

See Purnima in Singapore with the Pirate Lords of Singapore and The Straits of Malacca. See below how splendidly this Tamil from Kerala completes the circle (with the Chinese, Malay and English traders represented in bronze by Aw Tee Hong on Boat Quay in Singapore):

The Pirates of the Caribbean – Pieces of Eight

The Code is the Law:

Now Suchi moving from this tale about the French, British, Americans and our beloved Pirates onto another charming tale about a family from Madras, The French (good guys in my story for a change), The British Colonists (the baddies), the shadow of America with its song of Freedom and liberty and a Pirate ship. A leaf from my diary – 

The Ballad of the South.

The story opens in Madras on February 22nd, 1914, the night my paternal grandmother Kowshiki was born. It was a night etched in Madras history as a sneaky pirate ship, a German light cruiser called the SMS Emden slowly snuck up into the Madras harbour and bombarded it until all the Burmah Shell petroleum reserves had blown up and the harbour was in flames. This theatre of this audacious pirate ship that dodged all in its path unfolded in the first couple of weeks of World War I. The aim of this attack being to blow up the British colonial assets, ie, the petroleum stocked in the harbour by Burmah Shell Company. The SMS Emden was also known as The Swan of the East and was harboured at the port city of Tsingtao (my fav beer) and commanded by the very smart officer Karl Von Muller who managed to unleash a trail of chaos upon the South China seas sabotaging and destroying the Allied ships and resources that came in its path, and yet managing to travel undetected in the high seas. The captain cleverly camouflaged his ship by adding an additional dummy smokestack in order to resemble a British ship, and once near it would hoist its colours like a pirate would and embark on a full fledged attack. Through these tactics and its deft evasion skills it gained great fame/ notoriety and its journey, its story and the story of its crew is memorialised in much of history, film and literature.

The story of the Emden is very relevant to the my story, The Ballad of The South, because my great grandfather, S. Duraiswami Iyer, who was a prominent lawyer in the Madras High Court and an a covert revolutionary fighting for India’s independence from British rule, celebrated this event (ie) the blowing up of the British Colonial assets by a pirate ship that had snuck into the harbor on the night of the birth of his first child, and seized this opportunity to thumb it to the British colonists by naming her Emden. So my grandmother was named Kowshiki Emden. As you can see from the image below my grandmother Kowshiki was truly The Swan of the East. This was a name she wore for many years until she was teased to tears (for Emden was known in Tamil to connote someone sly and treacherous like the ship)and forced her father to change it Kowshiki in the birth records.

Image of my grandmother Kowshiki – Swan of the East:

My Grandmother Kowshiki (Emden) Viswanathan-The Swan of The East-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

 See below the fabulous clips about the voyage of the SMS Emden and the plague in Madras: 

Military History Now – The Astounding Voyage of the SMS Emden:

The Story of the SMS Emden – The Great War

Madras – The Emden Plaque – Memorializing the night of September 22, 1914 and the bombardment by the German Cruiser SMS Emden of Madras Harbor:

Plaque regarding bombardment of Madras. This plaque is near the Judge’s gate at Madras high-court.

By VtTN – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

Emden – The Pirate Ship – Must read article in The Hindu:

The Bombardment of Madras Harbor:

By Agence Rol – Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain,

The Men of Emden – movie (2012)

Such was the passion of the freedom fighters from the South(India), that even a grand personal home like Palm Grove, our ancestral home in the south where my father and his siblings were born, and now is a part of the historic home tour of Madras, was given away by my great grandfather S. Duraiswami Iyer along with all his other assets to the Aurobindo Ashram and to the revolutionary cause for which he had sacrificed his blood, sweat, tears and family to gain India’s Freedom from British Colonial rule.

My grandmother used to recount that this was a home where great artists, writers, poets, philosophers and freedom fighters were housed and taken care of. The evenings used to resound with dramatic orations from Subramania Bharati considered the greatest of modern Tamil poets, and music from the veena that wafted from the balconies while my grandmother Kowshiki sat on the lap of Ramana Maharishi (a much regarded Hindu sage and philosopher known to have achieved liberation or “Jivan-mukta”) as he recounted to her the meaning of life. This is the story of the Tamil people and one that seems to have slipped from their collective memories as the great revolutionaries from the southern states are all but forgotten within barely a mention in any of our history books. Where are these stories from the south of valour and passion, intrigue and revolution to uphold freedom and liberty which would excite the imaginations of children even today, stories of S Duraiswami in Surat in 1907 or his clandestine helping of the revolutionaries by finding novel means of getting messages across to Subramania Bharati who was sheltered (by the French) in Pondicherry, or even S Duraiswami being sent as an envoy of Aurobindo to meet with Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress (the Crips mission) and dissuade them from partitioning the country. I don’t remember reading about these southern revolutionaries, fired and inspired by their tactics and stories to free their Motherland, in my history books in Delhi or Madras or even Calcutta. Suchi, “Vande Mataram” was the cry echoed across India, regardless of the language of the people, this cry formed the core of S Duraiswami Iyer, as he embraced it as his life’s motto. For Madras to forget or not to forget is now irrelevant as this memory is to be rebuilt in the New World, see below S. Duraiswami Iyer:

Image S Duraiswami Iyer:

S. Duraiswami Iyer-Madras High Court-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Crips Mission and S Duraiswami:

Palm Grove – S Duraiswami Iyer’s home

Madras Heritage Homes-S. Duraiswami Family Ancestral Home-Palm Grove, Madras, India- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan


Music to Dust – The House of Tiruvottiyur Tyagier:

Ironically, but very aptly even though my great grandfather was funding and working covertly with the revolutionaries to overthrow British Colonial rule in India, thus celebrating the German light cruiser SMS Eden’s assault on British assets, ie, the oil tanks of the Burmah Shell company that were located in the Madras harbour and naming his first child, my grandmother Kowshiki, Emden. S Duraiswami’s son, and my grandmothers brother Thyagarajan “Tiger” who was studying in England upon the breaking out of WWII joined the RAF and went on to blow up the assets of Nazi Germany. His purpose was completely inspired and in line with his father, S Duraiswami Iyer, for Tiger in his capacity, wished to do his best to help remove the tyranny and injustice of the fascist forces (Nazis) like his father had striven to dedicate his life to get rid of the tyranny and injustice imposed upon the people of India by the British Colonial forces.

See below a well compiled profile dedicated to the memory of my grand uncle “Tiger” Thyagarajan of the Whirlwind Fighter Squadron (1943) by Aircrew Remembered in the link below:

the Whirlwind Fighter Squadron (1943)- Video depicts “Tiger” Thyagarajan RAF at :10, :48-:53 and other points throughout the film

Tall handsome Tiger, my grandmother’s favourite sibling and the one she remembered and missed most with all her heart until the day she passed, and one who was the rightful inheritor of my great grandfathers legacy, sharing his passion for justice, and our base in the South, and was shot down over Normandy ton the 25th August 1944, the day Paris was liberated. His remains were collected and buried in a church in Normandy, the memory being narrated by a child who saw the plane crash into the fields (see below). There was also a memorial service by the French, British and Indian nationals recognising his valour and contribution. Thus ends the story and the links to the south of my family, this long forgotten family of Madras.

See below Tiger Thyagarajan on the engine cowl:

Tiger Thyagarajan on The Typhoon Fighter Engine Cowl- Photo Curtsey Priya Viswanathan

I shared this post on the 101st birthday of my granduncle Tiger Thyagarajan: Tiger was our family’s anchor to the South (India), the eldest son of an old musical family. He was fired with the same passion that flowed through my family that had sacrificed much resisting British colonial rule in India. Upon the outbreak of WWII, he followed on his footsteps, but this time aligning with the British by joining the RAF to crush the forces of bigotry and oppression. His typhoon fighter jet plane was shot down on a field in Normandy the day Paris was liberated.

A wonderful article and a fitting tribute to Pilot Officer Sayanapuram Duraiswamy Thyagarajan (Tiger) written by David McMahon

Voice of Britain – 1944- One of Our Aircrafts are Missing (video clip):

Voice of Britain – 1944- One of Our Aircrafts are Missing (video clip)

Images of “Tiger” Thyagarajan:

The story of Tiger Thyagarajan is especially poignant, as the family gradually moved out of Madras due to the pressure of continuous surveillance by the British, with my great gandmother Meenakshi leaving Madras with the children to settle in Pondicherry by 1927 under the protection and shelter of Sri Aurobindo, at Aurobindo Ashram. As this French controlled part of India was adjacent to Madras presidency, S Duraiswami Iyer continued his work at the Madras High Court at the same time covertly supported the revolutionary cause. Sri Aurobindo, the great philosopher and revolutionary, based in Pondicherry and supported by the French was the anchor for the revolutionary movement, fanning the cries of Vande Mataram or freedom of the motherland for the revolutionaries across India, especially in the South. Tiger spent his youth here in French India at the Aurobindo ashram and breathed his last as his typhoon fighter jet crashed into the below pasted field in Normandy, France on 25th August, 1944, the day Paris was liberated, liberating what he called his Mother’s Land. Both for his mother who was sheltered and embraced by Aurobindo and The Mother, Sri Aurobindo’s spiritual partner in the Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, French India. She joined the ashram in 1927 and continued to live there till the end of her life 1993, well after Pondicherry accession into the Republic of India 1962.

See Tiger Thyagarajan below(right) with his brother Mitran (@Sorbonne) on the left in this old photo from The Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India:

Photo from The Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry-The Sons of S.Duraiswami Iyer – Mitran (left) and Tiger Thyagaran (right)-Photo uploaded from the family album by Purnima Viswanathan

Field in Normandy where Tiger’s RAF typhoon aircraft crashed on August 25th, 1944.

The Field in Normandy Where Tiger Thyagarajan’s Typhoon Crashed -Excerpt from Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

The Soldier – Poem by Rupert Brooke – Quoting the same, my fathers words for his uncle “In that Rich Earth, a Richer Dust Concealed”

“Tiger” Thyagarajan the RAF Pilot – website

Memorial held for Thyagarajan in Normandy by the British, French and Indians with a plaque that commemorates Tiger Thyagaran’s sacrifice at The Battle of Normandy. Tiger’s remains were taken by the priest and buried in the church of La Lande-Saint-Léger near the field where his typhoon fighter jet crashed. My grandmother who was unable to journey to Normandy for the ceremony was very touched to hear that a memorial was being held for her beloved long lost brother, the one she mentioned all the time to me as he lived vivid in all her memories. She was especially touched that the tombstone over her brother’s grave read- Aum Bhagavate Namah – Here Lies A Hindu Airman :

The Remains of The Tiger

In Memory of Tiger Thyagarajan -Typhoon Fighter Remains -The Battle of Normandy – Photo Curtsey Priya Viswanathan

We Shall Not Forget

Poppy Wreath in Memory of Tiger Thyagarajan -Who Lost his Life During The Battle of Normandy – Photo Curtsey Priya Viswanathan

*The RAF Typhoon Aircraft:

*Hawker Typhoon – incredible sound

*Typhoon aircraft documentary- photo of Tiger sitting on the engine cowl:

Out of Duraiswami’s large family of five children, only Kowshiki (my grandmother) survived and married Viswanathan. I’d like to think that my grandfather Venkat Viswanathan ICS, who was so much a part of the British Raj, (the very people my revolutionary Great grandfather was fighting), was the reason why the story of Duraiswami Iyer continues to this day as I carry forward not only S Duraiswami Iyer’s blood but his fire to the New World!

Hope you enjoyed the ballad from The House of Tiruvottiyur Tyagier, tell me can you hear the music?

Big hugs


PS: See in pic below all the characters of the Grand Theatre of the South. 

(Top row L-R): Mithran Iyer (@Sorbonne) Duraiswami’s son, (?),(?), V.Viswanathan(Palghat- my grandfather), S.Duraiswami Iyer (The Madras lawyer/revolutionary – my great grandfather) holding my aunt Kadambari, Tiger Thyagarajan (RAF) my granduncle Duraiswami’s son, shot over Normandy and buried there.

(Bottom Row Seated L-R) ?, My great-grandmother from Palghat with my father Vijay Viswanathan on her lap, (?), Kowshiki “Emden” Viswanathan (my paternal grandmother), Anu Iyer (grand aunt) daughter of Duraiswami Iyer with my uncle PK Viswanathan resting his arm on her lap, (?)

S.Duraiswami Iyer and Family, Madras, India-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Dear Suchi,

After prompting you to review all our correspondence to check if it can be published unedited, I found myself doing the same expecting the regular errors of auto correct, missing words, grammatical and punctuation related errors and omissions which can result from uncontrived spontaneous writing and require no editing in my opinion. However, I stumbled upon this inexcusable error, the omission of a negative, the word “not” which renders the entire analysis bankrupt. So, I am compelled in this specific instance to make the correction, insert the missing word “not”, and resend the letter. See below:

Reflecting on the Right to be Forgotten – Peter Fleischer, Global Privacy Counsel

Fletcher outlining his position as defending the right of each country to balance the freedom of expression and privacy it chooses, not what is imposed upon it, ie, what another country chooses for it. Delisted links on all european versions of google search like and in March 2016 also removed links from so that persons from countries requesting delisting could NOT access the requested blocked links. 

And since I have ventured to edit and resend this letter, I have taken the liberty of adding an additional hyperlink relating to my grandmother brother Thyagarajan “Tiger”, the RAF pilot shot over Normandy on the day Paris was liberated. This link is absolutely essential as it has his details and his photos capturing the charismatic persona that my grandmother  never stopped talking about. She was well into her 80’s when they announced that they had founds her brothers remains on a field in Normandy. It was a lifetimes wait for her and I am so glad she left knowing that he was found, embraced by the community, carried into a church and buried in their grounds with a plaque that stated “Here lies a Hindu airman”. See link below:

“Tiger” Thyagarajan the RAF Pilot – website

Lots of love,


Sucharita Shanker <>

Feb 17

to me

I also noticed that you’ve written Peter Fleischer in one place and Fletcher in another.  We sometimes see with our brains and not with our eyes and many an omission or typo slips through the cracks. 

Purnima Delhi <>

Feb 17

to Sucharita

Oh that darn autocorrect! But this is a mild error compared to others I have encountered including having my phone hacked (by my kids) and words replaced, where every time I typed baby or darling it would autocorrect to an obscenity. But this I still would not touch as it could be recognized as an autocorrect error. I would like to keep the natural flow as much as possible. 

I’m off to Delhi for a day tomorrow for my cousin 50th. She is my fathers elder brothers (Priya Kumar Viswanathan)daughter, the one who grew up in Bombay. And if my family story couldn’t get more complex, her father, Priya Kumar Viswanathan, my grandmother Kowshiki “Emden’s” eldest son, joined the Burmah Shell Oil Company right out of college, yes the assets of the one that the SMS Emden bombed in Madras harbor the night that my grandmother was born. For Burmah Shell was British Petroleum. He retired relinquishing the proposed chairmanship option to join the Dutch (Phillips). So there we have it, circles within circles. All a part of our great boxwalla story!

Big hugs will write when I’m back! Do call when you get back. 

PS: The Dutch are always in our story…



PURNIMA VISWANATHAN (Granddaughter of Kowshiki “Emden” Viswanathan)

Geneva Diaries #21*

Of Beasts and Men, The Jabberwocky and Laal Kaan, Traditional Knowledge and The Tale of The Ice Mommy, Who…Got “baked” in Sonoma?


Dear Roger,

Guess what…we are off to Graubunden tomorrow for the long weekend, and I am VERY excited, not only am I returning after a span of 13 years (and many lifetimes) to my first stop in Switzerland, a place that completely stole my heart, but I am returning to the place where my Ice Mommy story is based: the Weisshorn!

Unfortunately, I think that story is gone, back into the glacier, my diary is long lost (sob, sob)…but the ghost of the Ice Mommy still lingers in the shadows with a macabre twist.

As usual, your mail takes me journeying to distant lands and dynamic exhibits. I would have loved to catch a glimpse of this particular exhibit at the Tokyo museum of modern art, but your words painted a wonderfully fulfilling picture. I know somewhere its Murakami at work, the old TV monitors being a reflection of what is left of the man, his series of memories and experiences captured in the mould/ hardware of his time, it all sounds breathtaking.I continue to be intrigued by people with the uncanny ability to so subtly exhilarate the mind. After reading your mail, I discovered that a number of my memories were also wrapped up in little parcels, like an old song played by my first love, which then floods the mind with associated memories of place and time and food and dress. So, more Murakami for me… I can’t wait to read Sputnik Sweetheart. I always wanted to be an astronaut you know, now of course it would be impossible, i am sure they would not allow lipsticks on board, not even Dior!

In your mail about my trip to Paris, you had mentioned something about getting back to the “right” side of the mirror, now do tell me what would be my “right” side if I am UPSIDE DOWN??? The mirror inverts the image in any case, so the “right” side is always the FUN side. Three guesses to where that might be! 

Talking about Paris, and my previous email where I mentioned that I was on a lifelong quest for the holy grail: the idea of Privacy, hoping to somehow find it in the alleyways of Paris, the arteries that run through the core.

You do know that I have been on a lifelong pursuit of understanding the idea, exploring the concept of privacy, which, as we have discussed in the past,  is getting more alarmingly relevant in this technologically accelerated universe of ours. And, in my opinion, should forms the core, the fulcrum, the basis upon which any legal system that is to be relevant in this world is to be built. The French, somehow so intrinsically live, breathe, and represent this idea that it appears to be enmeshed in them and their culture. Which makes my journey to their heart soooo attractive. I am convinced somewhere within its alleyways lies the Holy Grail!

But, I did not want to make the fatal mistake of searching for this pivotal idea in the words and expressions of the “pundits”. A lesson I had learned during the years in America where I saw and heard repeated time and time again forceful, passionate, eloquent, apparently educated, debates and discussions by persons held up as the pundits of society, the intellectuals who “we the people” thought could make a rational logical argument/call on most pertinent issues, especially issues of peace and war. However, I saw these very faces so seduced by themselves and their own arguments, that all they wished to present was the agenda of the day and when the agenda changed and the “call to war” fell flat on its face and their agenda changed. These very persons spoke with the same passionate fervor presenting rational arguments couched in high flying intellectual verbiage brushing aside issues relating to the average citizen’s concerns relating to privacy, one that made us all crouch with reverence and admiration…today that bell has tolled. 

Of course, my skeptical upside down brain did just NOT accept this and i ran. My name has been annoyingly shortened from Purnima to “P” by my “loved ones”, since we have gone this far, I often tell the children that I might change it to the symbol representing “pi”. (If Prince can change his name to a symbol, why can’t I) And that pi is such an irrational number unruly, impossible, unfathomable number,  its value cannot be expressed exactly as a fraction and its decimal representation never ends or repeats…to the point where Lewis Carroll apparently based his Queen of Hearts, that irrational unruly character on this irrational pi. So, being true to my nature, an upside down irrational girl, oops lets change that to woman (who is always in love, real or imaginary), I say, just like Lewis Carrol’s Queen of Hearts, “Off with their Heads” “all of them”, lets get funky Fred to lead the gangplank (and oh how I loved him).

See below Alice in Wonderland-The Red Queen:

So, similarly, I decided to abandon any discussion on the idea of privacy with my friend, for I suspect he would represent that very spectrum, that I ran ran ran so far away from. My goal is to get to the core of this idea, an idea which is so integral to these people that I believe is woven in the fiber of the average man, who has some beliefs that he treasures as being integral to his identity and not one that is thrust upon him by the media or authority political or intellectual and similarly cannot be wrestled away. I think my search will have to involve a longer stay and many conversations (including my fancy dancy friend) with all I encounter to get a glimpse of that holy grail. It looks like I’m back to my French lessons!

Well, since we are back to Lewis Carroll, I did see the movie Alice in Wonderland and enjoyed rereading the Jabberwocky, a supposed nonsensical poem, a fantastical play on words. 

“Beware the Jabberwocky, my son!

  The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun

  The frumious Bandersnatch!”

See below Alice in Wonderland- The Jabberwocky:

However, The Jabberwocky is not so nonsensical from my perspective (an upside down look through the mirror). I have been told that this fierce beast resides in a magnificent castle on the periphery of Lake Geneva! And, since I have found myself thrust in Wonderland, the eventual clash with the jabberwocky is inevitable I’m afraid! It’s written somewhere…

A little background, if you are able digest big game hunting, but of course in another time another world. As my son embarked upon the biography of his maternal grandfather for his school project, and I scurried around looking for appropriate photos of my father, I found that his grandest and most glamorous ones were by the side of a tiger or cheetah, glowing in the glory, sitting broad chested, sporting his signature Tyrolean hat beside the slain beast gun in hand. OK, those photos WILL NOT WORK. So, how about a biography on my grand father, again the Bavarian hat, the fierce and formidable beasts “the jaws that bite, the claws that catch”… man testing his wits against nature, raw gut instinct and the pulse of the jungle. The Tale of Laal Kaan. No, not a good theme for my sons middle school project, but a good one for us, yes? 

See below pics of The Mysore Palace with a mounted tusker akin to Laal Kaan a pic of the Game Room where you can still get a glimpse of the Raj superimposed by images of The Maharaja and Viswanathan:

See below V. Viswanathan as one of the men of The Raj (ICS) who went on to being instrumental in the foundation and administration of the New Republic (of India):

V Viswanathan at the Podium- The old ICS becomes the face and the voice of the New Republic (India)- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

See below The Mysore Palace: Mounted Tusker – The Story of Laal Kaan

The Mysore Palace Tusker- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan
The Mysore Palace Game Room – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

See below Purnima at the Mysore Palace Game Room:

Purnima at the Mysore Palace Game Room-Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

I am taking you back over half a decade to the jungles of the Deccan. The Maharaja of Mysore (a state in south India) was very perplexed with stories of a rogue elephant heard to be rampaging through the villages killing cattle destroying property and crushing human life in his path. The rogue elephant was massive and very fierce, far removed from his herd he had turned mad, aggressive. He was called Laal Kaan meaning red ear by the villagers as he used to rub his ears on the tree trunks till they were bloody and charge onto the villagers. My grandfather was invited by the maharaja (buddy) to take this beast down and the story of my grand father who chased the rogue through the forests on his elephant with his massive elephant gun (which would send most people flying off) is to be heard to be believed. There is really only one shot, one chance you get at a stampeding rogue elephant coming right at you, and that is between the eyes. The rogue was shot, the villagers were triumphant, my grandfather returned to the North with his tusks to his dear wife and double patiala peg (scotch), melodious Sanskrit verse and mathematics!

The Patiala Peg originates from the stories of the larger than life Maharaja of Patiala:

Here is a blast from the past, an Old World birthday pic from my teenage photo album at home in India with Laal Kaan’s tusks looming n the background. I’m being fed a piece of birthday cake (Forêt Noire of course!) by my maternal grandma.

Purnima’s Birthday in India with Laal Kaan and Foret Noire

Purnima’s Birthday with Laal Kaan and Foret Noire – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Following on their footsteps, I sense somehow my future too has been written, and the Jabberwocky awaits the final battle in the deep dark depths of lake Geneva.

Good night and hope to see you next week.


May 11, 2010, 2:54 PM

Dear Purnima, 

I can well imagine that your brief foray to the other side of the mirror has left you in an heightened state of despondency after returning to the “right” side.  Flights of fancy, be they real or imaginary, almost always leave us longing to be able to remain in that ethereal state of bliss rather than returning to the hard realities of our lives.  AND, the memories of those often dizzying times keep flashing through our consciousness when we least expect it, like flickers of light through a pitch black room.  We went to the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art the other morning, and there were several exhibits that really struck me.  One was devoted to the memory of a very famous newscaster in Japan who died in the 1980’s  His son found a whole collection of old videos and audio tapes that his father had done, and went through them all and edited them into a superb exhibit involving the sound of his father’s voice, images on sever smallish tv monitors spread around the room, and text (both in Japanese and English) on a large screen, all of which was in a totally dark, round room.  The effect was really spell binding, and many of the tv images showed events that the correspondent had covered throughout his life.  It was uncanny how my own memories of many of the events from the past that were evoked played a central role in how I reacted to the exhibit.  One of the things that I loved was a short bit from when he was in New York to cover a story.  He said that one morning while he was getting ready to leave, the phone rang.  He said that before he even picked up the phone he knew it was from Tokyo and from his tv station.  He went on to explain that for some reason an international, overseas call always had a slightly different ring to it, and while it may seem illogical and that the phone is a machine that responds to a signal and electrical impulses to activate the ring tone, it nevertheless sounded different.  The description of the exhibit also quoted his son as saying that the small tv monitors that were used to show the various images were tv sets from the period of time when his father did his extremely popular nightly newscasts and that it was most likely that the images of those broadcasts had been shown on those very sets and that they had somehow left an imprint!!!

Another exhibit in the collection was an entire wall covered with black and white photographs of people living in Switzerland during the 1940’s.  The people were all totally anonymous and the pictures themselves were without any artistic merit in and of themselves, but they had been found in a box by an artist that creates her art by using objects she finds and in the way they are arranged and presented.  One of the photos really got to me.  It was the picture of a young girl together with what were probably a group of her family members.  The mood in the photo and the girl herself for some reason took me back to a time when I was much younger and in Denmark and a young girl that I had known there, the memory of whom often flits through my mind.  Those events only live in my memory now, and are real only in that context, but I was really effected by that one picture and the effect it had on me.  The past is completely unretrievable and yet lives on in my mind.  It is evocative of both pleasant, unforgettable experiences that have shaped my life and the way I view the world and yet profound nostalgia.

You asked which of your stories I preferred.  I love them all and always marvel at the mesmerizing prose you are able to weave, but I think your evocation of Morocco was so rich and moving that I like that one best of all.  And I loved you description of how you tip toe through La Place Mollard of a morning taking great care not to step on the transparent cobblestones that carry their multi-language greetings!

Place du Mollard, Geneve:

And talking about war and atomic bombs, I heard an interesting discussion about warfare on NPR this morning (we can pick it up on the radio from the American military radio station).  There was a lengthy interview of a fellow of the Brookings Institute who has just published a lengthy study of the history of warfare.  His rather gloomy, I must say, conclusion is that warfare, in spite of all its violence, uglyness, death and destruction, is part and parcel of human nature.  Even though those of us who constantly hope for a more enlightened humanity that will attempt to find other means to settle dispute and differences have always felt that we just might be capable of moving toward a higher plane of awareness (knowledge, as you put it) and do away with warfare, that simply hasn’t happened !  It’s a terrible thought and conclusion, but I’m afraid that he is right!

So much more to share, but I have to run.  We leave again for Geneva on Friday morning and arrive that evening, that is if the volcano doesn’t interfere with things.  So far SAS’ flights have been operating normally, so I think we’ll be okay.

You didn’t say anything else about Boise???

See you next week sometime.  I’ll let you know when I can get away for a long coffee break.



Apr 22, 2010, 2:34 PM

Dear Purnima,

Your email came just in time to brighten an otherwise grey, rainy day in Nagasaki, especially that image of spring and flowers in Geneva !  And one of my favorite all time movies, to boot.  I agree that Bogart has to be the quintessential hero in that film, and Ingrid Bergmann is so tantalyzingly beautiful, and I love that final scene when Bogart and the French policeman walk off together to shape a new world in the future.

From the barren sands of northern Africa to the lush countryside and rolling hills surrounding the harbor of Nagasaki is quite a leap, but the two are, sadly enough, connected by a tragic war and suffering and sadness.  Your thoughts about the a bomb are an uncanny reflection of my very own this morning.  We spent several hours at the a bomb museum and memorial, and, as was the case last year in Hiroshima, I was engulfed with a whole gamut of emotions from deep sadness to disgust and dismay over my own governments decision (taken at least three years earlier by Roosevelt and Churchill) to drop an atomic bomb on innocent civilian populations.  It must surely rank as one of the great crimes against humanity, but then history is always written by the victors and the feeble rationalizations given at the time that the two atomic bombs saved hundreds of thousands of American lives just don’t wash any more.  Japan was already reeling in the war and had already approached the Russians to act as arbitrators in peace negotiations – rejected by the Americans, and there is no justifiable reason for killing so many innocent civilians (not to mention the totally arrogant assumption that American lives are somehow worth more than Japanese), and the long-term effects of the radiation, something that was far from being understood at the time, are another terrible consequence of that act.  I am convinced that once the machinery to produce a bomb and the decision was made to drop it on a Japanese city (specifically without any prior warning), it was next to impossible to stop it.  The Americans were not only bound and determined to punish Japan for the attack on Pearl Harbor, but also to demonstrate to the Soviets that they possessed a super weapon that made them superior to everyone else in the world.  Who cares if it set off an arms race to acquire the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons that could many times over obliterate the human species.  What a colossal exercise in futility !

I was also beyond myself this morning when I read that the city of Kyoto was also placed on the list of potential targets for the A bomb.  It even made the final cut of the last three targets.  Can you imagine that?  That they even considered obliterating such a jewel of a city with such historic importance is beyond me.  I really can’t fathom it.

Your mention of the recent talks and agreement on arms reductions made me think that each and every participant in any such talks should first of all be required to visit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki before ever sitting down at the negotiating table.  I don’t know if I wrote this last year from Hiroshima, but it was interesting that only one president of the United States has visited Hiroshima, and that was Jimmy Carter!  They should have all, each and every one of them, beginning with Harry Truman, made a pilgrimage to both of these cities so they could vow never to unleash such searing suffering on innocent victims again.

Hiroshima Peace Museum:

A Symbol of Hiroshima:

Well, there’s my rant about one of history’s great foibles.  Other than that, I have really enjoyed Nagasaki.  It is much more picturesque than Fukuoka and has lots of narrow little alleys and streets lined with shops and stalls.  We stumbled quite by accident onto a kind of fish market yesterday that consisted of a couple of dozen small stalls in a very narrow little street about two meters wide.  It was really great.


We’re off tomorrow for the island of Sukuoku and the city of Matsuyama and some hot spring onsen close by.  The Japanese trains are a real delight and a long day of riding the rails will give us a bit of a respite from rain we’ve had in Nagasaki.

Dogo Onsen – Ancient Bath House:

And to answer your other question, it was far more than ten years.  It was more like 23, but only the last three or four were really unbearable and we both kind of sank into a state of non-understanding and non-caring, compounded, largely on my part, by longings for something else and greener pastures and lush gardens of delight, which led me to a brief respite and an eden like rapture that soon turned rather sour, but that’s another very long story for another rainy evening.

By the way, I just finished another Murikami novel – Sputnik Sweetheart.  It is by far his best and most subtle evocation of the possibility of a parallel existence where  one part of us can dwell and where dreams are the connecting link.



May 10, 2010, 4:08 AM

to Roger,

Dear Roger,

I can’t believe this wonderfully descriptive email slipped through my fingers! I read it of course, but waited much too long to respond and it somehow got lost out there in ether. So, I decided to put all my correspondence (mainly our correspondence), covering my time/adventures in Geneva, in a folder labelled “The Geneva Diaries”, to be read at leisure at some later date. However, you must tell me which stories you enjoyed the most, was it Alice in Wonderland/ Purnima in Geneva, the Moroccan trilogy, the tales of Tavernier or the tale of dodging the multiple assassins in Pink Panther returns/ Sing is Kiing? The last tale surprisingly continues and appears to unfold around the glorious central square in the heart of Geneva, Place du Molard, where the sandstone cobbled streets interspersed with glass squares with greetings in numerous languages jump out to greet you. A place bustling with life and energy, people sipping wine enjoying the sunshine as they become spectators, cobblestones awaiting the drama to unfold. I find myself scampering past these cobblestones across the Place du Molard, which is on daily route to the health club, carefully avoiding the glass squares as they upon being touched morph into the assassins (in The Pink Panther Returns), representing the language they are written in, and mingle with the cobblestones awaiting their moment to strike. Something tells me that these tales must be kept between us, don’t you agree?

Place du Mollard, Geneva:

See below Clouseau at the Octoberfest a Target of International Assassins:

Back you your mail, thank you for this incredible email sharing experiences of your time in Nagasaki, the bomb museum and memorial and a slices of US history. The series of decisions that resulted in dropping the A bomb, boggles my mind as it does yours, but what completely blew me off is the fact you mentioned, that Jimmy Carter was the only US president to have visited the bomb museum and memorial! Incroyable!! In my mind, this should be the first shrine any US president visits, remembering, reliving, relearning the lessons of the past as he is entrusted with that absolute power to save or devastate. Of course, not only should this be a lesson limited to the president, but one taught to every middle/high school child using modern technology to virtually visit this very place that shook our souls, so that when this generation is in a position to make some pivotal calls having unravelled their celestial weapon of devastation, they are able to revisit this place in their minds before they make that call to fabricate or fire. If they could look through time, would the great minds that started this process, split the atom, have enjoyed the science and the cerebral speculation without proceeding to the next step, or is this beyond us, bound in this human form do we lack the strength to manage the very weapons we have brought down from the realm of the Gods?

All this brings me back to Drona’s Art of Warfare: Knowledge is the best deterrent as it somehow levels the playing field, everyone has the knowledge and everyone through their proxies have the nukes. The situation today, relation to nuclear deterrence with its many conventions, treaties and summits to scale back and secure reminds me of a Mexican stand-off scene from a Western movie: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  A Mexican stand-off is a stalemate or confrontation where neither side can conceivable expect to win, a situation where all weapons are raised immediately, either directly at each other or through proxies everyone all at once stands exposed, stands covered. This was dramatically depicted in the above mentioned movie, with Clint Eastwood as the Good (bearing an uncanny resemblance to a blue eyed cowboy in common, don’t you agree?), Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach as the Bad and the Ugly, all chasing after the same gold end up in the graveyard with a Mexican stand-off. The scene unfolds with the three staring each other down, evaluating dangers , calculating alliances each with his gun drawn pointed at the other, frozen, somehow drawn into a reluctant partnership of restraint for 5 LONG minutes! How long have we been waiting nukes drawn, how much longer do we have?

See below The Good, The Bad and The Ugly-Mexican standoff. And remember that in this clip like in Yoko Ono’s White Chess installation, there are ever really two guns, the third is a proxy (without bullets):

Back to lighter subjects and romantic interludes, after that memorable 24 hours (in Paris), my life feels even more desolate. The lack of communication, the absolute dearth of concern, the high stress seems to be dragging each day to an irreconcilable juncture. Perhaps, I should not have peeked through the door and glimpsed the other side? And, to add insult to the injury, I was told that the Taj Mahal of Marrakech, a dream built by my  dear friend and the one responsible for the introduction to this alternate realm, where our story (yes me and my beloved froggie) was to unravel in its second phase was usurped by the girls in my favorite TV series, Sex and the City, who took her Taj Mahal for a month to stage their next drama (movie). True! So, I have at least one return planned for Marrakech!

And Roger, before I jump onto the next subject and let this pass (regarding marriage and timelines) do let me reiterate, that the last ten years have been insufferable and not that much shorter than your incarceration! Roger, some people are just not made for this type of thing, and most certainly not Genji…I am still trying to figure how I got so stuck!?!

Finally, to distract my mind and keep the machinery in proper functioning order between dodging assassins and preparing breakfast, I have spent the last couple of days mulling over a topic which we discussed at length over lunch/coffee thus sharing yet another wonderful afternoon of thoughts and ideas (unfortunately not in french), the topic of Traditional Knowledge and Biodiversity. Traditional Knowledge, the knowledge generated by local communities, indigenous peoples, used and passed down from generation to generation encompassing knowledge of plants, minerals, processes, combinations, even artistic expression which enhance the health and welfare of a community. A knowledge so integral to a people, a community, that it forms an essential part of their cultural identity. We had discussed the case of the Indian herb turmeric which and the neem plant being patented and the uproar that followed. The neem plant case was a landmark case as it was the first case where a patent issued on the traditional knowledge of a country was successfully challenged as it was demonstrated that patenting would lead to expensive seeds which poor farmers would be unable to purchase and plant thus a plant which was integral to a culture and whose products are used across India for multiple agricultural and personal uses, would be unaffordable and not be planted thus patenting would lead to the erosion of the diversity of the neem tree. Similarly, the case was made for  turmeric based on traditional knowledge, which is used in Ayurveda and has been used continuously in India from 600BC both internally and externally as herb and medicine and is very much identified as an integral part of the culture eventually resulting in the US patent office revoking the issued patent. Thus an understanding arose that the issue of a patent is both dangerous and powerful as it excludes others from its purview. And, more so in the field of Traditional Knowledge, where that knowledge is so integral to a community and culture that it forms an essential part of their cultural identity and issuing the patent to an outsider would exclude the very people who have been using that knowledge, process, expression for generations that it would be like relinquishing a part of those indigenous people to a third party.

This reminds me of the famous painting in the Louvre and at the Metropolitan Museum titled “The Rape of the Sabines” by Nicolas Poussin.

The Rape of The Sabines – Nicholas Poussin – Public Domain

The Rape of The Sabines – Nicholas Poussin Public Domain

This painting represents the myth behind the founding of Rome where the roman men after having secured their land and organized themselves under Romulus realized that they needed women to procreate and populate their tribe, so they invited their neighboring tribe for a grand feast. The feast was in reality a ploy to abduct these Sabine women and make them their wives. The Sabine men were unaware, in-alert, and inattentive and thus relinquished their women, which represented their biodiversity, their essence, their flora and fauna to their more powerful and smarter neighbors. The women then become Roman women and give birth to the roman empire and the Sabine men have to forever look upon their own women as the ones from the neighboring tribe. As I saw it, this rape, plunder, abduction, was the first representation of the essence of a people, their Biodiversity/Traditional Knowledge (for in the women lie the traditions and the knowledge of a tribe) being snatched from them from right under their noses as they did not have the leadership, knowledge and tools to secure,  protect or reclaim it. The Sabines would represent the indigenous communities that do not have the knowledge resources or ability to secure their own biodiversity.

Unlike the turf wars of yore, we are onto another plane, a deeper more insidious one, where its no longer an issue of relinquishment of territorial space, one fluid and changing with times, very short times, but one of usurping the knowledge, herbs, plants, traditions, that have been a part of a people forever and sometimes the people themselves, changing both the face of the acquirer and acquired forever, one completely consuming the essence of the other.

Good night and hope to hear from you very soon! When do you return?


Jun 27, 2020, 12:04 AM

Dear Roger,

It’s been a while since we last connected. I do hope you and the family are well and safe during this pandemic.

One of the things I discovered referenced throughout my correspondence was The Story of The Ice Mommy…it’s one tale I never did get around to narrating. And time has now distorted this poignant tale of the Ice Mommy found five thousand years later seemingly intact with her long eyelashes and the rattle for her kids in her knapsack at the foot of the Weisshorn. 

However, something bizarre has occurred to  the story…the ice mommy who was assumed to have fallen to her death has been found with an arrow point at the base of her spine. Who would have done such a dastardly act, who would have shot an arrow into the spine of the Ice Mommy?

The tale is now one of assassination…  A WHODUNNIT… Who killed the Ice Mommy?

See below Otzi the 5,000 year old Iceman (mummy) who was found intact, frozen in the Tyrolean Alps, not far from the Weisshorn. It  is believed that he was murdered and didn’t just fall to his death as he was found with an arrowhead in his shoulder that went through his back. See Otzi below:Ötzi

Otzi -The Ice Mommy killed by a spear to his back:

love n hugs


PS: My Ice Mommy, is from the “other” mountain  range, from a place which is like the mirror image of the Weisshorn of the Alps, but is in the HimalayasThe Weisshorn Solang. She found herself with one wonderful bottle of California wine too many and got “baked” in Sonoma 😂

See below California Wine Country where CA attorneys go to bake 😉

The Culinary Institute of America:

The Weisshorn (The Alps):

The DhauladharsThe Solang Weisshorn (The Himalayas):

The Dhauladhars – By Ashish Sharma – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Geneva Diaries #20*

The Japanese Alps, The Potato Eaters, Paradise and Hades by the Pre-Raphaelites


Dear Purnima,

We returned to our comfy apartment in Tokyo tonight after a really great train adventure around Japan.  It’s great to be back in Tokyo.  It’s a city with such energy and excitement, and we’re also a bit tired of living out of a suitcase for two weeks.

We were in Nagoya the past couple of days and had originally planned on taking the bullet train back to Tokyo late this afternoon, but then we thought it would be wonderful to see a bit more of Japan, so we took a train this morning to Nagano in the Japanese alps and spent a few hours there visiting a wonderful shrine – the first place a statue of Buddha was erected in Japan.  There were snow covered peaks in the distance and the scenery along river valleys getting there was really spectacular.  The cherry blossoms were in full bloom.  They must bloom later than in Tokyo because of the difference in altitude.  It was raining this morning when we left Nagoya, but as the day went on, the weather became increasingly bright and sunny.  By the time we got back to Tokyo it felt very much like summer.

Japanese Alps:

Zenkoji Temple:

Tomorrow we are going on a walking tour of jazz bars and cafés in the Shinjuko section of the city with an American who has lived here for the past ten years.  He has a great jazz blog and organized the Tokyo Jazz Society.  There are some amazingly talented musiciens here, many of whom are women, who are next to unknown in the rest of the world.  I spent an hour or so the other day listening to some new releases at a record shop in Nagoya.

Did you know that the Toyota automobile manufacturer really started as a textile business?  The founder, a certain S. Toyoda, made several important inventions to the functions of looms that revolutionized the industry.  With the advent of the automobile, he advised his son to concentrate on that rather than on looms and spinning machines.  The headquarters of Toyota are in Nagoya, and it is very much a company town (city).

Hope all is well and the weather is still nice and warm in Geneva,




Dear Roger,

It’s wonderful to hear from you and get an update on your adventures across Japan. However, I would have enjoyed some scoop though, like the geisha who paused and smiled as she scurried passed the tall blue eyed American stranger…

Talking about adventures, it looks like I am finally off to one of my own, this time hopefully a REAL life one! Yes, I am finally off to Paris to continue an incredible Indo-American/ French-Moroccan story. A story I can’t wait to share. It all started in a marble palace suspended in the middle of another magical lake in a mystical land far far away.

See below Marble Palace in the middle of a lake- Udaipur Lake Palace Hotel:

If there is a definition on earth for paradise, it is here. Of course, little did I know that froggie would lure me with a ball of cheese, bedecked in all my jeweled finery, pull me down to the depths of the lake through the center of the earth  and lock me up in a tower on another magical lake, Lake Geneva, one closer to (his) home.  See below images of Lake Geneva:

Looking for the meaning of Paradise across languages and cultures familiar to me, I found it to refer to a beautiful almost heavenly place, (Judea-Christian) the Garden of Eden;  a garden, a palace with fountains, the definition finds a parallel closer to home, in Persian paradise is also defined as a beautiful magical place, a garden, similarly in Urdu (jannat), but when I look at Sanskrit, I find a distinction, here paradise is no longer a physical place/space but keeping the essence of that idea, a place of beauty and liberation, a spiritual space, a place within. You have to take your beloved there one day, and perhaps I could show u one way, right through the center of lake Geneva.

See below a beautiful depiction of paradise in Love and The Maiden by the John Stanhope at The Pre-Raphaelite exhibit at the Legion of Honor in San Francisco:

Love and The Maiden by the John Stanhope – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Legion of Honor – San Francisco

And see below Porsepine by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Rossetti holding her pomegranate, a theme recurring in my writings, is masterful work of art and hauntingly evocative:

Trapped in the tower in Lake Geneva below:

The weather here has been absolutely glorious with endless sunshine and temperatures hovering in the mid seventies, this has been a long winter in Geneva! Just two weeks ago I was unsure if I should pack away the winter coats, it was cold, and over cast and I felt completely sapped of spirit and energy. That was when you were getting all my mail complaining endlessly about my dead-end existence. However, in the throes of gloom, Geneva  presented its lighter side which had me in splits and made my day: I was driving on a routine trip to take the kids for tennis when  the radio blared in French that the listeners should wait through the commercials for the much anticipated upcoming song, “Gae-O”, this was repeated again with much passion, “Gae-O”, and I though to myself what could that possibly be, perhaps a popular French number. Then the music filled the car and I realized it was actually the hit song from the movie Slumdog Millionaire, “Jai-Ho”! The sky brightened and the clouds vanished as I almost laughed myself off the highway as I realized that in French the “J” is pronounced as a “G” and vice versa, “A” is  “AA” the (Hindi आ)” and “I” is pronounced as “E” (Hindi इ) and then to make things really complicated, the “H” is completely dropped! So, Jai-Ho is pronounced as “Gae-O”. How I possibly remain depressed in this French speaking part of Switzerland! How I LOVE this language, it turns me right round and upside down!! 

Here is a blast from the past – The music of the 80’s that still echoes off those Swiss slopes to this very day: Dead Or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)

Well, for some additional news from my end, Mirko (my ex) just mentioned casually over dinner to some friends that he was asked to move to Boise, Idaho. I almost chocked on my potatoes (the plural always perplexes me after the lessons from your illustrious leader), this is the way I get my news! I immediately surfed Boise, “where in heavens was that”. Contrary to what I thought, a potato farming midwestern state, I discovered it was located in the North Western US  and Boise River Valley (Bonneville Point) is located on the Oregon Trail (which I chant in my sleep as I have been pestered for years by my son to buy this “awesome” DvD: The Oregon Trail). Apparently getting its name from a French  guide who upon reaching the lush river valley shouted “les bois, les bois” and it’s the world (US is the world is it not?) capital of french fries.

Alright after some surfing Boise looks kind of neat – much more than a basket of fries.

See below Boise Idaho:

Well, my head started spinning as I ignored the Forbes report of Boise being ranked as one of the best places for business and career, and it spun and spun right to the the place where I spent my 24 hours in Amsterdam, the Van Gogh museum, to the core of “The Potato Eaters“. This dramatic work, one of the first masterpieces of Van Gogh, which has always tugged at something deep within, was finally in sight. I was being propelled into its frame, as I found myself seated in this dark room with the characters portrayed in this incredible work of art which reflected the potato farmers seated for dinner in a dimly lit room, with their coarse features, and soiled clothes and hands reflecting a sincerity, labor and an honest  toil. However, I found myself a bit misplaced and squeaked when one of them touched my hand and offered me a potato. My brain of course was shouting…”did you wash that in pinky (potassium permanganate) first”?

So, I spend the first of May in Paris.

Hope to hear from you very soon.



Van Gogh-The Potato Eaters:


The story would be incomplete and

I could not leave without telling you that I heard the radio broadcast of my favorite song (Jai-Ho) “Gae-O” on the popular radio channel NRJ or rather N+rrchoo (sneeze)+Gii !

Funny, not funny???

If u spent as much time raising an American Pre-teenager, in a French speaking environment you might be more sympathetic to my newly acquired sense of humor.

Hope to see u soon.


See Jai Ho below: A.R. Rahman, The Pussycat Dolls – Jai Ho (You Are My Destiny) ft. Nicole Scherzinger


Dear Purnima,

I’m so glad for you that you had such a delightful 24 hours in Paris.  I was waiting until your return to write back, since I didn’t know exactly how long you were going to stay.  24 hours sounds just a bit too short, but I’m sure it was long enough to give you that beaming smile and probably lots of lingering tingles all over.  When is your next trip back?

Don’t really have any geisha tales to spin, but we have seen a few of them, mainly in Kyoto, and we did stop and take a picture of one in Matsuyama last week.  I’ll try and send it to you.  I must say, however, that I am not totally taken by the geisha, and with all that make up and formal kimono dress, which are, of course, part and parcel of the entire geisha tradition.  But there are so many absolutely stunning modern Japanese women, especially in the Ginza area of Tokyo that . . .

We spent a wonderful day yesterday at the music festival called La Folle Journée au Japon, which is the brain child of the festival of the same title in Nantes, France.  It is a three day festival with dozens of concerts each day by some marvelous, world-class performers.  A friend of ours is the press attaché for the festival, and she gave us press badges for the entire festival.  We saw three exceptional concerts yesterday and are going back again this afternoon and evening for more.  This year’s festival is devoted to Chopin and all of his works are being performed.  It is a festival designed to encourage appreciation of classical music by people from all walks of life, and it is far from the stuffy ambiance that one usually finds at a classical music concert in France.  They even allow children as young as 3 into a good number of the concerts.

More about Boise later.  Not so sure you would find the transition from Geneva to southern Idaho (Mormon country) to your liking, and the demons might be just as active there, if not more so than they are in Geneva.

Off to an art museum.



La Folle Journée au Japon

Jai Ho!


Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Geneva Diaries #19*

Mulling over Morocco: Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart and Where did all the Good Guys Go? Kabuki in California, Gion, Kyoto, Nagasaki and the Nuclear Arms Race


On Sun, Apr 18, 2010.

Dear Purnima,

It’s our last night in Kyoto, and we’ve had a marvelous time here, although my feet are tired and sore from all the walking we have done. Yesterday was the fascinating Gion section of the city where the few remaining geisha who still work are a major attraction, but it is a part of the city with small wooden houses that are very traditional and a striking contrast with the otherwise modern architecture in the city.  We also went to the international Manga museum and a great museum of traditional crafts I am more and more impressed with the painstaking efforts Japanese artisans go to to produce such exquisite and beautiful things.  Nearly everything we saw (and see in many of the shops in town) is the result of very distinct procedures that have been handed down over the generations.

Last night we had an aperitif in a little Irish pub called The Hill of Tara, which, of course, made me think of you, and tonight we ate in an Indian restaurant, Kerala, which was really great.  The Japanese seem to be drawn to all kinds of international cuisine, and they sometimes do a better job at reproducing other countries dishes than many other countries I have visited.

So much to tell and so little time to do it. We’ll have to go for a long lunch when I get back so we can share all of our respective stories. 

Your mingling with the spirits of the Atlas mountains sounds ever so intriguing.  Thanks for taking the time to write it all out.  I’m really sorry that you are suffering so from loneliness.  I know just how down that can make one feel.  I very often experienced that during the final years of my first marriage.

We take the Shinkansen bullet train to Fukuoka tomorrow morning.  It is the port city of Japan that is the closest to Korea, and the Korean influence on the cuisine is apparently quite prevalent.  And the city is famous for its blowfish dishes – a poisonous fish that if not prepared right can be fatal. Not sure I’m up to trying it.  From Fukuoka  we go to Nagasaki and more wrestling with the conscience of a citizen of the only country that has ever dropped an atomic bomb on another country.

Take care.  More from Nagasaki,



Gion, Kyoto:

Matsuri Festival:

And I abs have to add this fun clip to Roger’s letter of a Geisha Makeover in Kyoto, Japan:

Dear Roger,

A mail from you is such a cheerful thought, do keep writing! When I wrote to you last, I was in the throes of a low, it’s incredible what a difference a few days can make, the sun is now out and Geneva is glowing in the spring sunshine with glistening green hillsides and blossoming branches around every corner. Geneva is gorgeous again!

The other day, I had some (Sanskrit) verses coursing through my brain which I struggled to recollect but all I heard was the reciting of the verse that poured so melodically from my grandfathers lips and his face in bliss as he recited the glories of “madira” from our scriptures and ancient literature. Madira means wine, nectar, an intoxicating drink in Sanskrit, and it has the same meaning in Hindi, Urdu, Hindustani.

Madira – meaning in Sanskrit:

Madira (Sanskrit: मदिरा) is a Hindu Indian popular feminine given name, which literally means “wagtail, wine, nectar and inebriating drink” in Sanskrit. Another meaning is spirituous liquor.

Madira (मदिर) refers to a type of wine. Different types of wines are described in the works of Kālidāsa. Madya and madira are described in Ṛtusamhāra, āsava, madhu and śīdhu in Raghuvaṃśa, vāruṇī in Kumārasaṃbhava and kādambarī in Abhijñānaśākuntala

In the above mentioned renowned Sanskrit novel Kadambari, an intricately woven love story by Banabhatta (7th century), the maiden Kadambari’s mother was named Madira. Kadambari was one of my grandfather’s favorite books and he was often heard quoting from it over his chota peg (never chota or small in my opinion)it was the inspiration for daughter’s name, but it also resonated deeply both for his love for madira (wine) the name of Kadambari’s mother in the book, and for his deep love for his wife, my grandmother Kowshiki.

See below a beautiful leaf from my family’s volume, my aunt Kadambari in a pink polka dotted saree (yes it’s the irresistible polka dots again!). Banabhatta must surely have drawn inspiration for his love story Kadambari from a similar image of the damsels of Palghat, India (Roots):

My aunt Kadambari (Viswanathan) Rasgotra in Pink Polka Dots – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Then upon further surfing I discovered that the Net seems to tell a different story: the story of Madeira, the principle city of a group of volcanic island in the Atlantic to the north of Morocco. Apparently, Madeira means wine as well, and this city is famous for its wine which it has exported around the world since the start of the age of exploration. It was taken to India by the Dutch East India Company as well as to the Americas. Thomas Jefferson even toasted the declaration of independence with his favorite drink, madeira. Incredible parallels between European usage and a Sanskrit word, I wonder if there is a connection, a journey? However, putting things in their correct chronological order, madira, a word so dear to us has appeared in our literature and scriptures millennia before Madeira became known as the wine port of call. 


See below Honey Wine (madira) from Ethiopia- from my friend Alison Macbeth’s album:

Honey Wine or Tej- Image courtesy Alison Macbeth’s Album on Ethiopia
Ethiopia – Tej or Honey Wine/Madira- photo courtesy Alison Macbeth’s Album

See below some more images from my friend Alison Macbeth’s adventures in Ethiopia: The Source of The Blue Nile, Hippos and Gelada Monkeys

See below Tana Lake and Hippo’s from Alison Macbeth’s Post:

Tana Lake is the largest lake in Ethiopia (holding 50% of the country’s fresh water), is the source of the Blue Nile (contributing up to 60% of the Nile’s water) and controls the flow to the Blue Nile Falls (Tis Abbai). It has 37 islands with 30 ancient and historic monasteries. The hippo sightings were best part of the boat ride! — at Lake Tana, Bahirdar/gonder.

Laka Tana Ethiopia – Image Courtesy Alison Macbeth

And still on the subject of Madira, you had mentioned the difficult last few days of your first marriage, but did it last 10 years? Well, how about stepping into my shoes as try living as I have been living these last ten years with a delusional Captain Haddock imagining me to be a bottle of champagne, (The Crab with the Golden Claws) and continually trying to de-cork me! Try and out fizz that!! See pasted below:

Still mulling over our trip to Morocco, I decided to get the famous movie Casablanca, for the family to see, which captures a slice of the drama that was unfolding in North Africa during World War II. A movie that seems to always make it to the top of the list of all time greats but we never get a chance to see (all have to vote yes). The timing could not have been better, and we each seemed to connect on our own special plane.

I was bowled over by Humphrey Bogart, the dialogue, the romance, the suspense, the setting and the story. He embodied the quintessential hero, the “All American Good Guy”, the guy who will “think for the both of us” which I often plead for someone to do… and do the right thing! I know somewhere in my heart, that’s what I went to America in search of and I left asking “Where have all the good guys gone?”

See below Casablanca- You Have to Think for the both of us:

What’s So Great About Casablanca:

 But… hold on… all is not lost, I did meet some scintillating personalities whose lives brimmed with mystery and adventure, with travels to exotic lands, mastery of various dialects across the  globe, danger and dashing good looks. These real life stories which would even today out rival their Hollywood personas: The King of the Kasbah reclining in his grand room in Marakech in an elegant Djellaba; the 6Ft tall Rock Hudson look alike championing for California Open Spaces; and of course my favorite, the Blue eyed Cowboy Counsel with a mischievous twinkle!  Unfortunately for me, they were also of Bogarts genre, I was just born 40 years too late! 

And of course, to shatter this fuzzy dream, I was destined for an alt experience of Americana…a close encounter with none other than The Joker (Batman).

See The Joker I encountered below – “Why so serious”:

Mine was a real life nightmare, one who said with the permanently fixed smile, “if you open your mouth”… and boom the fist came down symbolically on the table (The Firm); and heh, heh, heh “I guarantee you this, that you will NEVER work in the state of California”!!!  

Hallucinations or such stark reality that the characters, caricatures, expressions and theatrics would have transported one back to you in Kyoto for they would have left the audience incredulous even as a Kabuki performance At Kyoto’s Minamiza Theater:

See below a fab woodblock print of Kabuki Actors on stage, quarreling and enraged, from the San Francisco Asian Art Museum exhibit on Tattoo’s. An image worth a thousand words as my virtual Kabuki theatre unfolded in all its hues in San Francisco with American actors.

See below Kabuki in California:

With these memories and this endless silence, i find one hour melding into another. I find myself burrowing deeper into the Net, some print and of course my pen. As I try and race through The Rogues Gallery (a book on the history of the Metropolitan museum in New York and one from  my nostalgic past), I struggle to get to Phillipe de Montebello and his all so familiar voice guiding me through the galleries. I anxiously await this meeting, somehow I sense that he has the key, the key to my mystery! 

I wish to ask him for just one Night in the Museum, so that I might bring to life the relics of my culture, the sagas that have inspired me. So that I may unfreeze the friezes and breathe life into the Dream of queen Maya as she reclines on her bed waited upon by her attendants with the vision of the white elephant suspended overhead. I wish to bring her dream/ my dream to life in all its vivid colors released from its petrified form on a wall at the end of the Asian section of the Metropolitan Museum. See below The Dream of Queen Maya from the SFMOMA:

Queen Maya’s Dream – Asian Art Museum San Francisco – Image by Purnima Viswanathan

Another one of my favorite stories depicted in numerous forms across the ages is the romantic story of the handsome king Udayana which bears a striking parallel to the story of the Trojan Horse. Around the 6th century BC there were many changes taking place in India, new religions, rise of great states, (the sixteen mahajanapadas as old by the Buddhist texts) and many conflicts ensued as the states were battling to acquire new territory. 

The Tale of the Wooden Elephant:  King Pradyota of Avanti, made a clever plan to capture the neighboring king Udayana who was renowned for his love for elephants and music and  had a secret for taming elephants. The king of Avanti built a wooden elephant in whose belly he placed his soldiers. Upon seeing this curious creature, a blue elephant just across the river in the neighboring territory, king Udayana charged across to inspect it from near. He was immediately captured by the men hidden in the wooden elephants belly and taken to Avanti where he was held captive and assigned to teach the princess music, the secret which tamed the elephants. The princess was told he was a leper and he was told she was a hunch back and so the lessons continued through a veil. And, as it happens with most love stories, one day the veil dropped, they both saw each other fell in love and she helped him escape and became his queen. The story is romantic, but the characters are historic as buddhist texts even mention Buddha visiting Kaushambi during the reign of king Udayana.

How did you like the story? You must remember me when you visit the Met next!


See Purnima with the elephants in Kabini National Park, Karnataka, India:

Kabini National Park, India — Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

In your email you mentioned:

“From Fukuoka  we go to Nagasaki and more wrestling with the conscience of a citizen of the only country that has ever dropped an atomic bomb on another country”.

Drona and the Code of War: Knowledge is the Greatest Deterrent! ( In case you go looking for this topic, I wish to inform you  that this is a product of my artistic expression/fabrication)

This had me thinking about the recent arms control/nuclear deterrence treaty that was the topic of most papers last week. The endless negotiations, airtight contracts tapping into the minds of the greatest pundits of our time to ensure that every issue is covered in order to secure the world from these weapons of mass destruction.

But, do you think that it is these discussions debates and endless treaties that secure the world from the devastating consequences of these expressions of man’s muscle? The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been out done a thousand times, resulting in not just bombs with a hundred times the power and impact of the dropped bombs but hundreds of those in the stockpiles of the world. 

In my opinion, it happened because of a lack of knowledge. Both the droppers (the US) and the nation impacted (Japan) along with the rest of the world were shocked at the extent of the devastation, not just from the impact but the long lasting impact radio active corruption of the air, soil and gene pool leading to severe birth defects and chromosomal abnormalities (do correct me). This was not a “bomb”, as conventionally understood, one that destroys upon impact, but concealed  in this false nomenclature, was unleashed a sinister core altering continuum of devastation.

 I believe, that had the world known the ramifications of using this against an adversary, as we do today, no conscionable soul/nation would have permitted it. Today, the greatest deterrent is the knowledge and the memory of the devastation caused on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Unfortunately, there are possibly many other demons lurking in the closets of the giants, unknown to the world, unanalyzed, inconceivable and unfathomable by the average intellect.  Would the deployment of these will give us a second chance, an opportunity to put our heads together and draw up a deterrence diagram. The question is WHAT will be the guinea pig this time: our Earth, our blue skies, our soil, our gene pools? 

Good night and hope to hear from you soon!



Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto

Geneva Diaries #18*


Letters 1, 2 &3

Tue, Apr 6, 2010

Dear Purnima,

Where are you ? ! !  Have you been kidnapped and spirited off to a desert harem somewhere in the Sahara ?  I miss hearing from you !



Roger Stevenson

Fri, Apr 9, 2010,

Dear Roger

I am at the airport in Fez, on my way back to Geneva. 

This trip to Morocco has been the most incredible experience ever, one I could not have conceivably anticipated!

I now have material for a 1001 stories, do you have desire to listen? 



Morocco I -The story of Boy, his Donkey and the Desert, The Spitting Camel, The Boy with the Eye of the Crane and the Wings of the Stork and The Cactus Bite

Dear Roger,

You would have barely landed in the land of the rising sun, and I am afraid you will find your inbox inundated with my numerous mails. Are you ready for the stories: – The story of Boy, his Donkey and the Desert; The story of the spitting Camel; The story of the boy with the eye of the Crane and the wings of the stork; The story of The Best Seat in Town; and finally The Story of the Cactus Bite.

I last left you in Marrakech, were we spent the first couple of wonderful days. We drove from Marrakech over the mountains and to the door of the Sahara desert along the road of a thousand casbahs, stopping at Ait Benhaddou, then onto Ouarzazate which was a giant Saharan Hollywood and a center for international filmmakers, spending the night at Skoura then onto to Tinerhir and the magnificent Gorge du Todra deeply cut into the mountains with an icy river flowing through this narrow gorge flanked by sheer mountain faces. Our journey continued to Erfoud the fossil city which was at the edge of a seemingly endless barren landscape to the door of the Sahara. 

Ait Benhaddou this 16th century Casbah was like an incredible illusion that had arisen from the desert, an immaculate apparently deserted fortified city, a UNESCO protected fortress, situated atop a hill bordered by a stream in the middle of nowhere and nothingness. See below Ait Benhaddou:

Morocco and Ait Ben-Haddou as the setting for The Game of Thrones, See link and video below as I walk in Khaleesi’s footsteps:

Ait Ben Haddou’s only occupants appeared to be the magnificent migratory storks who have built their grand nests atop towers of this old but intact settlement.

Nesting Storks are Ait Benhaddou’s sole inhabitants- Purnima Viswanathan

This originally was a resting stop for caravans carrying salt across the Sahara and returning with gold and slaves. Recognizing the magic of this setting numerous movies have been staged here like my favorite Indiana Jones (and the Jewel of the Nile). So, like Indiana, I jumped upon the back of a noble looking donkey with an overtly amused teenage berber boy leading the donkey and a girl with a ponytail (me of course) across this raging stream (puddle). However, I noticed that when I dismounted that the boy released an audible long deep sigh. Then again upon my return trip across the puddle, upon dismounting he did the same! I looked him squarely in the eye and he averted his gaze turning crimson. I then sensed that I was witnessing something special, this boy was completely in sync with his donkey, one with the beast. So, when I dismounted, perhaps he sensed a burden off his shoulders or perhaps he sensed my body pressed against his donkey upon dismounting, obliquely experiencing the sensation. Well, I thought to myself that unless I was leaping dragon, there was no other way of getting off the donkeys back. So I returned a little more connected having shared a piece of the story between a Berber boy, his donkey and the demanding desert. See Below The Berber Boy his Donkey and The Raging Stream (puddle) ferrying the kids to get to Ait Benhaddou:

Erfoud, the fossil city was at the edge of the great desert, and from here it was all dirt track requiring a change of car (4×4 landrover), we of course got a bandit, an intense driver who insisted  on keeping his windows down and face wrapped up driving at break neck speed over dirt and dunes re-enacting his fantasy of being a participant in the Paris-Dakkar rally of which this route was a part. After a while my son and I got into the swing of things and started mirroring his moves like a wii game but reality hit with the grit and sore behind, it was AWESOME! See below a snapshot of our journey through the highlights of Dakar 2021:

Somehow, I felt that I got off that ride but my kids continued the journey (Paris-Dakar)all the way to Dakar. See Padme’s Twins (my American preteens ) below:

Padme’s Twins on Another World – My American Preteens- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

An envoy for his excellency summoned me to Dakar to meet the African Manatees for they know and hear all…Come to Dakar was the echo heard all the way in San Francisco…you are long awaited…

The envoy informing me that the Florida manatees are cousins to the African manatee, handed me the saber promising me safe passage to the murky subterranean depths of the elusive manatees where I am awaited. See below the Saber gifted by the Floridians:

The Saber a gift from The Manatees — Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Dakar, The capital of Senegal:

Its wildlife — terns, lions, manatees! Time to meet his Excellency the Manatee(a part of The Galactic Council, a story for another day)!

Best places to visit Senegal

The African Manatee (Conservation Status Endangered):

We then reached the protected area of Erg Chebbi, and the Sahara. The adventure continued. At this point, we found four camels waiting for us (we were late) they appeared to look away pooh poohing us as these “wanna be” adventurers as they pouted their lips and disdainfully continued to chew gum/cud. We mounted our camels and embarked upon the second phase of our adventure over the sand dunes into the Sahara to our desert camp. As we waited for our signal to move, Mirko made the fatal mistake of peering my camel in the eye (true story, i promise), and saying to him ” Hey, I used to smoke you for 20 years”! My camel came back with a fitting response, straight from Tintin and the Prisoners of the Sun (where the Llama kept spitting on Captain Haddocks face), and spat right into Mirko’s face. The kids and I almost fell off the camels laughing but had to quickly regain composure as Mirko DID NOT LOOK AMUSED. 

See below Tintin and The Prisoners of The Sun by Herge:

We city dwellers spent a miserable night in the desert as we, the camels, the toilets and the tents seemed to be  blown away in the most violent sandstorm. And I, of course insisted that we must all brush our teeth as we jump out of bed. After the first couple of mouthfuls of sand, I promptly abandoned the idea and discarding the dental floss having come to the realization that brushing your teeth during a sandstorm in the Sahara is just not feasible. So, devoid of water, and filled with dirt and sand, itchy and irritable we drove 10 hours to our next destination. We crossed the Sahara and the barren landscape,  traversing the Paris- Dakar rally route onto the road to Fez. Our route took us just across the spectacular Atlas mountains at first vast barren stretches and then lush greenery with cows, sheep and donkeys(no escaping donkeys in Morocco) and a congregation of the most incredible bird life. It was incredible, especially for the kids to find unique interesting birds all along our route, many of whom were long migratory European birds that wintered in North Africa. Interestingly enough, these birds seemed to have blended with their environs and settled down in complete comfort in their generously sized habitations without a seeming disturbance or threat (which as I mentioned in my last mail has reduced many long migratory birds in India to be put on the critically endangered list). It was wonderful to see the love and respect the local people had for these magnificent birds, as they would not be prospering  seemingly omnipresent across Morocco. 

See below the Erg Chebbi dunes and what looks like our campsite:

See below link for White Storks (which have been salvaged from the brink):

In the early 1980s, the population of the White Storks had fallen to fewer than nine pairs in the entire upper Rhine River valley, an area closely identified with the white stork for centuries. Conservation efforts successfully increased the population of birds there to 270 pairs (in 2008). It has been rated as least concern by the IUCN since 1994, after being evaluated as near threatened in 1988.

Our final destination across the Atlas mountains towards the ocean was the old Roman settlement of Volubilis with its soaring pillars and arches that framed the sky. The intricate and still intact tilework depicting motifs from Roman mythology like the Labors of Hercules left us all awestruck. See images of Volubilis below:

See below my daughter in Volubilis- Guess who fell out of the Stork nest?

The Stork Nest- Volubilis – Purnima Viswanathan (PV)

Here is a link to wonderful documentary on Volubilis:

See below a short clip on Volubilis:

In Marrakech, the storks are found in old ruins and towers across the city. As we sat down outside to eat in a roadside stall, I grumbled as neither the seat nor the meal looked appetizing and I had been warned about eating raw salad outside. As a chair was pulled out and I was plonked upon it, I noticed that right in front of me atop the neighboring building was a large nest with a stork family, the mama, papa and babies. The juxtaposition with these long migratory birds that have been tracked from Italy all the way to Morocco, was uncanny. Our journey being even longer and more convoluted, have travelled across large oceans and numerous continents we all meet on a busy street corner outside a souk in Morocco. I certainly had the best seat in town! See pic of the stock nest in the middle of town:

Volubilis – Stork Nest-The Best Seat in Town- Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

And story of the stork continues…

On our road to a 1000 Kasbahs, we stopped momentarily to admire the thick foliage surrounding the oasis in the desert. It was during one of these stops that a little Moroccan boy selling handicrafts at the corner of the road peered into our car and right at my son D and stared. He then threw one of the woven reed handicrafts which he had in his hand onto D’s lap. It was a cigogne, a stork, a bird that the little boy had seen around him nested up on ruins and minaret tops, and this image must have captivated him year after year, which he recreated using his reed strips to make an image of that stork. When he peered into the car and looked at D, he probably saw in him a bird from a land far far away, a long migratory bird with the eyes of the Crane and the wings of the Stork and so out of all the handicrafts he had in his hands, he threw into the car, onto D’s lap his expression, his representation of the bird that must have captured his imagination. It was a beautiful poignant moment, as the two boys, from two worlds, of a similar age, looked at each other and smiled. See my son D below in the traditional Shesh or headscarf for men:

Wearing a Shesh – Morocco – Photo by Purnima Viswanathan

Still gritty and grimy from the sand at Erg Chebbi, we wound our way to Fez. Me, being myself, I demanded that we make several pit stops and I clambered over loose rubble steep hillsides and barren ground to “go”. On one of these adventures, attempting the shortest route possible up the hillside to the highway and the car, I stumbled and fell right into the middle of the only clump of cacti (or any vegetation) for miles. Howling, I made my way back to the car and to a grumpy unsympathetic crew who did not want to stop yet again (its got to be their elastic bladders…10 hours!). 

Well, that was a pivotal, turning point of my life, for this was no ordinary cactus bite! The cactus had somehow mixed the earth with my blood and I could see, i could see everything, all the designs and colors that had eluded me (in my last email to you), the beautifully inlaid motifs, the intricate but unfamiliar patterns on the walls and the ceilings of the Riads, all came to life. So, when we finally reached Fez, and our Riad/hotel with (the much desired hot flowing water, food, soft beds,) a magnificent courtyard with the most intricate tile and woodwork i had seen in a home and of course with a gently flowing marble fountain in the center, I sincerely believed we had reached paradise, jannat! See images of our awesome Riad in Fez below:

But, more importantly, this time I did not find myself struggling to discern the motifs and designs or even to compare them with those from home, but after having travelled across the desert and the high Atlas mountains, and most probably because of the magic cactus bite, the patterns developed a familiar twist, and seemed to dance in front of my eyes jumping out of their encasings and transforming themselves into their original forms the plants and flowers from which they were created, as cactus flowers and wild flowers that dotted our route all the way to Fez. I know what you are thinking about cacti, Native Americans and hallucinations, it was none of that but just a kiss from the cactus that was keen to share his universe with me, to unravel his world to my curious eyes.

See below Moroccan designs:



Morocco II

Morocco – Sights and Sounds – A Europeanized Old Delhi

Dear Roger,

I am not sure where to start the story about the magnificent journey to Morocco, its sights, its sounds, its colors and contours all so intoxicating to the senses. We started our adventure in Marrakech, where we spent a couple of days just soaking in the place and the people, all the local dishes and the fabulous marketplaces. It reminded me of a Europeanized Old Delhi. The stark contrast with Old Delhi of course being the absolute cleanliness of the environs despite being in the middle of a marketplace or public square. See below my American pre-teens in the Marrakesh Souks or marketplaces with all its exotic wares and wildlife:

See Marakesh Souks below:

The parallels were overwhelming, not only were the spices we use in our (Indian) food in common, but the preparation of vegetable dishes deliciously familiar, the vibrant colors and the hustle bustle of the marketplace/souks with the over eager shopkeepers, the periodic call to prayer, the meats with their kebabs and Keftas or meatballs (our koftas). Of course, the central courtyards, intricate tile work and fountains of Morocco find a parallel in our Old Delhi a part of our capital city which most distinctly represents the Islamic influence on our culture and history over the last millennium the most vivid being the Perso-Islamic influence of the Mughal dynasty(mid 16th to mid 19th century), a colorful pattern which makes up the varied hues of our nation. 

However, the one piece I found most fascinating about Morocco was the language, a language which appeared (to a lay person like me) to be an amalgamation of Berber, Arabic and French, to the extent that French had been incorporated so innately into the language that I am unsure if the people were able to distinguish it as French (as they kept saying they were speaking Berber and sometimes Arabic and I clearly heard French words). 

This was a fascinating situation which finds a striking parallel in my world where English, our colonial heritage, has also been silently absorbed into the local lingo, Hindustani, to a point where it is not recognized by the average man as an English word (of course English has reciprocally absorbed many Hindustani words). The parallel however does not end here, not only do we have the language of the colonists in common (French in the case of the Moroccans and English in our instance), but in Hindustani we also have Urdu (with its Persian and Arabic basis) which together with Hindi forms the spoken language of India (and of course the Indian diaspora through Bollywood). So, between communicating in French (my very dilapidated version), English and capturing the odd Persian/Arabic word, communication became an integral part of the adventure!

Apart from the souks, the grand square Jemaa el-F’naa, and the gardens, the great Kutubiyya mosque was a star attraction, famed for its minaret a fine example of Andalusian architecture, the construction (of native sandstone) which started with the Almohad conquest of Morocco in 1150. It’s name comes from the Arabic for book “kutub” ( again familiar as in hindustani book is “kitab”). Son nom vient du fait q’elle se situait dans le souk des marchands de manuscrits ( I was thrilled when I could read this on wiki without using “translate”, we certainly did more together than drink coffee). See below the Kutubiyya Minaret in Marrakesh:

Kutubiyya Minaret in Marrakesh: Photos by Purnima Viswanathan (PV)

Incredibly enough, the star attraction of my hometown Delhi is the Qutab Minar, the worlds tallest brick minaret, built around the same time (1196) by Qubud-din Aibak and this red sandstone minaret is the most prominent example of Indo islamic architecture in our neck of the woods. Am I stretching your mind with the minaret? 

See below The Qutab Minar in New Delhi India a part of the UNESCO World Heritage List:

Then of course there was the visit to the Saadian tombs and the Bahia Palace, I was left breathless by the beautiful craftsmanship, fascinating motifs, representing the flora and fauna from their environs; an expression of a people so unique and distinctive. I realized then that I had slipped into a parallel universe, one which in so very many ways was similar to the world I was familiar with, the central and south asian cultures and their Islamic heritage with their unique expression, detailed tilework, precious inlays in marble, fountains and courtyards, Quranic verses interspersed with detailed motifs and yet the details of the designs upon a closer look were from a universe apart, as distinct as the flora and the fauna that surrounded these two worlds several continents apart. I struggled to find the familiar pomegranate, the amla, mango seed, the creepers, the rounded outlines of the flowers perhaps a familiar beak, but none was in sight. Despite the familiar outlines, the core represented another world, another continent, North Africa, the  with its unique habitat, flowers, fruits and life reduced to its unrecognizable geometric skeleton. Brilliant, fascinating but indiscernible to my eye, used to a vision from a distant land…

To be continued.

Good night.



Dear Purnima,

Just a quick note.  We’ve had a whirlwind two days in Tokyo – it’s so great to be back in such a civilized and fascinating country – and we’re leaving this morning early for Kyoto.

Loved your two installments on Morocco.  It’s really intriguing the many points in common that you have outlined between that and your own Indian culture.  Keep them coming !  I’ll have more to say once we are in Kyoto.

In spite of the sometimes overwhelming numbers of people in the streets, subway and shops, Japan continues to fascinate me because of the wonderful sense of appreciation for all things refined and beautiful AND the innumerable practical aspects of life that they have developed PLUS the omnipresent politeness and smiles and helpfulness, not to mention the stunning beauty and gracefulness of so many of the Japanese women!

Hope you’re well and that the demons that seem to plague you so much have gone into hibernation (it’s almost wintery cold here, and we didn’t bring our warm coats).

More from Kyoto and points further south (Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Unzen)



Morocco III

Morocco – From Casbah to Castle-Prisoner Of Chillon – Nature Of Man 

Dear Roger,

Its fabulous to hear from you, even if its a short note. On my end, the loneliness is devastating and I find myself sinking deeper and deeper into The Land of the Lost. It’s so wonderful to have someone coherent to communicate with, a voice, a pulse, some feedback echoing deep into my dungeon letting me know that there is life above, perhaps life beyond…

Encouraged by your note, I am sitting down to type the third and possibly final installment of Morocco: A Parallel Universe, at this unearthly hour where the only thing up and shining is the full moon!

I wandered around Morocco carrying Gavin Maxwell’s very enjoyable book, Lords of the Atlas, from point to point somehow hoping to absorb not just the intoxication of the surroundings but the ideas and words, power-plays and personas that had moulded its last century and a half. The book traces the rise and fall of the Glaoui family from 1900 to 1956.The Glaoui were one of the three principle caids (lords) of the High Atlas, that controlled and maintained the passes especially the caravans from the Sahara across the Atlas. The book centers around the two brothers Madani and T’hami al-Glaoui, the legendary tribal warlords who used not just their might but their diplomatic skill to become the kingmakers and the real power behind the throne by making a pivotal call to support and protect the debilitated army of the then sultan Moulay Hassan of Morocco who was returning across the Atlas after a disastrous encounter with the hostile tribe of the Sahara.  The wounded, frozen, hungry and battle weary army of the sultan was offered gracious hospitality food and shelter as they crossed the Glaoui territory over the tizi-n-tichka pass by Thami and Madani. Their hospitality was paid back by the sultan in numerous gifts of armaments, and most importantly, the much coveted Krupp cannon, this one and only state of the art weapon of war in Morocco, which gave the Glaoui the edge over their neighboring tribes and secured their position in history as the Lords of the Atlas and kingmakers. Upon the death of his brother, due to his close alliance with the French, Thami was elected as the head of the family, the Pasha of Marrakech becoming more powerful than the Sultan and ruled southern Morocco with absolute power. The horse trading and theatrics and the power plays of the history of Morocco, during the last century covering pre-protectorate, protectorate period from reign of the formidable sultan Moulay Hassan 1893 , to the Glaoui alliance with the French and rise to power, to 1956 the fall of the Glaoui abandoned by the French who reinstated the sultan Mohammed V recognizing the independence movement as inevitable.

The grandeur and excess of the Lords of the Atlas and the sultans, the ruthlessness and the heady intoxication of power, the contrivances and manipulations of the various tribal chieftains and of course the omnipresent colonial powers a parallel found in the story that unfolded in India with the maharajas their indulgences and excesses and the rivalry within which was fully exploited by the British colonists using the infamous “divide and rule”.

Since this was a physical journey, as well as an intellectual one, I was able to connect the sights and sounds I read with the physical experience of being present in the richly adorned riads, palaces with intricate zellige tile work, fountains and central courtyards with trees clustered with colorful fruit,  the all so familiar interwoven maze of floral motifs, the deeply carved ceiling with the unique stalagmite formation designs thus I was truly able to sense the grandeur of the sultans and the fierce and forceful power of the Lords of the Atlas. I sensed a people with a heightened sense of aesthetics yet battle hardened by the dry arid winds of the desert where it was all about power and survival. As I had mentioned in my last email, this was a dream, a europeanized Old Delhi, incredible infrastructure, fabulous roads, and squeaky clean, without a piece of garbage. However, as we drove into the desert, I observed barren expanses that seemed to stretch for hundreds of miles, devoid of life and habitation, seemingly untouched by man, but here in the middle of the pristine lands, billowing in the wind like some melodramatic tragic art were millions of colored plastic bags that were somehow entangled in the scattered shrubbery. This was also an expression of development but the converse side… and it certainly made me think!

Back to the Lords of the Atlas, in this, Maxwell quotes extensively from Walter Harris’s 1912 book. Walter Harris was the proverbial Englishman in Morocco, a London Times correspondent who lived and interacted with the personas through the tumultuous era of the first three decades of the 1900’s and provided a vivid and entertaining account of pre/ protectorate Morocco, royal courts Berber rebels and squabbling sultans ( like the ex sultan Moulay Hafid) who assigned to their dentist the purchase of a lion and refused to compensate until they received their dental chair throne (yes, the actual royal armchair and not the ones we mortals frequent).

In attempting to depict the ensuing intrigues, tactics and ruthlessness with which the strategy was executed Maxwell quotes Walter Harris and his depiction of events as he experienced them first hand: a description of the dreadful damp and dark dungeons under every Kasbah and the mortifying tale of two political prisoners highlighting the blackest page of sultan Abd el Azziz’s reign. 

In 1894, upon the death of the fierce Sultan Moulay Hassan, his minor son Moulay Abd El Aziz accession to the throne was completed with the help of the powerful chamberlain Bou Ahmed. As is the case with most child accessions (and we have a number of examples in India), there was intense court intrigue and two factions, one of the child sultan and chamberlain and the other of the grand Vizier and the minister of war. As soon as the new government was organized, the court left Rabat for Fez. Fez was the center of religion, learning and intrigue and its influence was great. In order to fully secure his throne, a sultan needed the support of the religious and aristocratic Fezzis. Bou Ahmed, the Chamberlain knew that for the Fezzis he was an upstart and in order to secure himself he had to asset his stance in their presence, and thus unfolded the gravest injustice and blackest page of sultan Abd el Azziz’s reign.

One morning, during the usual morning court, the Grand Vizier arrived in the city and summoned by the sultan prostrated in front of him. Upon providing an unsatisfactory answer to a question posed to him, Bou Ahmed, the Chamberlain accused him of disloyalty and political crimes and appealed to the sultan to have him arrested. The grand vizier now a disheveled creature, was jeered and taunted as he was dragged through the central public square, simultaneously his brother Si Mohammed, the Minister of War was also arrested. They were sent in chains to the Tetuan to be confined in a dungeon. 

The conditions prevalent in the dungeons of that time outlined by Maxwell in Lords of the Atlas as described by Walter Harris who often had first hand account:

In every Governors Kasbah, deep in damp dungeons, here lay and pined those who had committed or not committed a crime in such suffering and darkness receiving just sufficient nourishment to life. Men were known to have existed for years to emerge again after their long suffering. And what prisons!  What horrors of prisons they were, even those above the ground and reserved for the ordinary class of criminals. Chained neck to neck with heavy shackles on their legs, they sat or lay in filth and often the cruel iron collars were only undone to take away a  corpse.

Both the Grand Vizier and the Minister of War were chained together with iron clamps around their necks and feet, and they remained so chained for ten long years. Then the Grand Vizier died. The governor of the Tetuan afraid to bury the body in case he was accused of letting the prisoner escape, left the dead prisoners corpse rot in the summer heat of the dungeon still chained to his brother Si Mohammed Sorier. Si Mohammed Sorier lived, He was finally let go after fourteen years and he emerged from the dungeon blind and lame from the cruel fetters he had worn to find his properties confiscated and his wife and children dead. Such was the cruelty and ruthlessness unleashed by the sultans and tribal warlords in the pursuit of power.

As I lay tucked in my cosy covers reading this tale halfway through to the Moroccan desert, I was jolted back to a tale closer to home. No, not India this time, but Geneva! The Prisoner of Chillon, a poem composed by Byron (one I have read and re-read and mentioned in every passing note) during a boat trip on Lake Geneva with Percy and Mary Shelley  while visiting the Chateau of Chillon on the edge of Lake Geneva. The story of Francois de Bonnivard, the Swiss patriot and historian, the prior of St. Victor near Geneva, who supported the cause of liberty and the revolt of Geneva against Charles III, duke of Savoy. Bonnivard was imprisoned in the castle of Chillon from 1530-1536 and this saga was romanticized and immortalized in Byrons poem, The Prisoner of Chillon.

See below Chillon Castle on Lake Geneva:

The poem champions the cause of liberty by highlighting the cruel and tragic circumstances of Bonnivard incarceration who  was fettered by his neck in the damp dark dungeon (finding a parallel with the Moroccan story of incarceration in the dungeon above) of a majestic castle in the middle of a magical lake.

My hair is grey, but not with years

My limbs are bow’d, though not with toil,

For they have been a dungeon’s spoil

Three were in a dungeon cast,

Of whom this wreck is left the last. 

There are seven pillars of Gothic mould,

In Chillon’s dungeons deep and old,

And in each pillar there is a ring,

And in each ring there is a chain;

That iron is a cankering thing,

For in these limbs its teeth remain,

With marks that will not wear away,

When my last brother droop’d and died,

And I lay living by his side. 

That iron is a cankering thing,

For in these limbs its teeth remain,

With marks that will not wear away,

When my last brother droop’d and died,

And I lay living by his side. 

 Here, the poem romanticizes the historical facts by depicting Bonnivard as being chained by the neck in the dark and damp dungeon along with his two brothers whom he sees perish in front of his eyes when he was the sole captive, actually bears a closer parallel to the real life story of the events mentioned above that unfolded in Morocco with Si Mohammed and the Grand Vizier, where Si Mohammed spent 10 long years in that damp dark dungeon chained to his brother and eventually to his brothers corpse. I wonder how much Walter Harris took from the poem (which he was undoubtedly familiar with) to describe the horrifying facts of this story of Si Mohammed.

They chain’d us each to a column stone,

And we were three — yet, each alone;

We could not move a single pace,

We could not see each other’s face,

But with that pale and livid light

That made us strangers in our sight;

And thus together — yet apart,

Fetter’d in hand, but joined in heart,

To hearken to each other’s speech,

And each turn comforter to each

With some new hope, or legend old,

Or song heroically bold;

Lake Leman lies by Chillon’s walls:

A thousand feet in depth below

Its massy waters meet and flow;

A double dungeon wall and wave

Have made — and like a living grave.

Though hard I strove, but strove in vain,

To rend and gnash my bonds in twain.

He died, and they unlock’d his chain,

And scoop’d for him a shallow grave

Even from the cold earth of our cave.

The parallels however do exist and Byron through the poem does a brilliant job of depicting the unrelenting captivity, the imposition of unbridled power, the merciless cruelty and torture. I suspect, many universes removed, here too, on the banks of this magical lake, such traits were taken as signs of strength and mercy as evidence of weakness. I wonder, if in some way these traits are inherent in the nature of man stretching from the Alps to the Atlas, from the East, to the West. Si Mohammed Sorier survived, so did our Bonnivard, will we???

It’s early morning, I should go to bed.

Hope to hear from you soon!



Disclaimer : P

All persons, places, events are fictitious; all imputed relationships purely aspirational. There were no men harmed during the penning of the Feminist Manifesto