Wednesday, July 23, 2014

SMARTNESS abhi baki hai, mere dost !

To start with, I am always skeptical about new technologies and mostly the last to adopt them.  (OK. I belong to the generation that used yelling from the terrace in place of phones.)

 I was immersed for years in Black and white, while the world went technicolor on TV, I laboriously did rotational dialling on our old black rotary land line, struggled with an obese hunchback black and white  computer monitor while other flat types looked on , and even continued to use the chutney stone since blenders and grinders were too fast for me. And the chutney.

Then cell phones happened, and I joined the bandwagon like 6 years too late.  Another few years to discover that there were things called Apps.

And all the while I noticed the phone becoming more of a toy and a commercially exploitable  entity than a communication device.   Wires stuck in ears, what appears like people talking loudly to themselves, mindless tapping and clicking playing screen games, numbing the mind, following maps to places, and in general pretending that everything was , say, SMART .

But , then, I have been thinking about things ...    and as they say , "SMARTNESS abhi Baki hai mere dost ....."

I'd love to have a phone, which senses minute changes in my pulse , blood flow or temperature.  I should also be able to sense change my breathing.  Alert me when things are going on the wrong side.  It could be when I am perturbed during a conversation, it could be when I am travelling, , or simply for no reason at all.  I think the sensing technology exists. The smartness needs to be implemented via hardware.

Instead of playing siren sounds on  sensing abnormal numbers and further disturbing things, it could simply dial a pre decided number. Or your health provider if that number is not available. Or broadcast messages....

The phone would also have a way of identifying the geographical location of the caller and would display it  when a call comes in.  I can't imagine the number of mischievous and fibbing types that would get exposed.  

What would be amazing is if the phone had lie detection technology installed.  It can be done using Voice Risk Analysis on smart phones , assuming they are really smart.  Wouldn't it be amazing to know if the person calling you is lying through the teeth, when he  or she says   things that are likely to cause you worrisome trauma and outlandish costs ?    

On a social level, in technology which might yet be in its nascent stage, it would be great to have a phone, which at the press of a button  could generate some kind of rays that would immobilize the person in front. If these rays could give an electric shock, even better . This would be the phone of choice  for young girls travelling alone, whether for work, or school or even to attend nature's call.

The Asus Zen, has a capability of sensing buttons pressed while the user is wearing gloves.  Besides being useful in freezing weather,  these phones could have a special attachment when used by medical diagnostic types like MRI, SCAN technicians, and docs in OR's, who want real time emergency response from someone miles away.   I know phones exist which project their screen on the wall. 

And then there are , what I call abilities in the wishful thinking categories. Clearly technology for these may or may not exist at the moment, but I never thought I would see cell phones,  ATM's,  pen drives,  bought-and-sold-cricketers ,  and artificially honest politicians in my lifetime either.  Now anything is possible.

How about a phone, which fills a Mumbai pothole when you point the phone at it ?

How about a phone, that glows bright when you are around a corrupt person ?

How about a phone, that generates a virtual shade above your head at the press of a button ? This would be such a boon for old folks at bus stops in the summertime.

How about a phone that would generate monetary change,  as soon as you key in the amount ?   Such a boon for bus conductors, rickshawallas and  vegetable and fruit vendors.  Not to mention me.

How about a phone that quietly clicks the id number and face of the cop who has stopped you on the road, and is speaking in code words that you don't understand ?

How about phones, that could seed the clouds when used in unison, and thus helpful in times of scanty rain ?

I am not asking for any super powers from the phone.   I don't want to fly. I don't want to travel at the speed of light or for that matter even sound.   I don't want to collapse under a shower of crores as is the current trend.  I don't want traffic signals to turn red for traffic when I am crossing the road.

All I ask , is some useful things as outlined above.   I don't care if the phone comes in twentyfive psychedelic colors. I don't care if i can shower or swim with the phone attached .  I don't care if it automatically plays the theme from Titanic when the battery is low.  And I don't care if it refuses to shut down even when I slap it.

I know , our problem lies, as we are very fond of saying, in the implementation.

How about a Asus Zen phone, that actually oversees and does a successful implementation of everything ?

If so, I promise to raise a statue dedicated to it in the Arabian Sea. 

Funding will not be a problem,  as the phone will generate it with a tap on the $ sign.     

So easy .....  


(Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger  - In Search of Incredible-Asus Zen Contest).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The case of the Filling Fragrances

I grew up at a time when Tata's  Eau de Cologne ruled the market. 60 years ago. Simply because there was nothing else.  Everyone called it "Scent".   ( A million times better than what we have today, fragrances called , of all things, Poison.  ) 

A single bottle went on for years, as you dabbed on, or better still, someone else dabbed on you, a few drops of the same on special occasions. Room fresheners, per se, as seen today were non existent, and no one felt the need to have a room smell of pine forests when the pervading smell in the house was that of ghee being made in the kitchen, or the years supply of garam masala being pounded by hand.

Years later, when I went to the US for grad school, and shared a small apartment , I suddenly learned that when you expected guests for dinner,  it was the done thing to use a room freshener fragrance spray,  not so your menu remained a secret, but, because houses were not expected to smell of adrak-lasoon  enjoying themselves in
hot oil.

Our cerebral cortexes (or is it cortii)  are trained to actually associate memories with smells.  And while there are several memories like those inhaled while passing in a train over Mahim Creek, that I prefer to forget,  so many others take me back  to the old days.

Like when we had neighbors from Hyderabad in the early 80's and every Id, the grandma would be visiting, and she would cook up a Biryanic storm in their kitchen. The flavors would waft down to the garage area, and we would blindly follow our noses  inhaling the adrak, the lasun, the saffron, the onion, the cinnamon, the cloves , the mint, the dhania doing their stuff amidst Basmati, to land us amidst the guests visiting for Id.

 Like when we celebrated the Ganesh Festival, and the house was redolent with the small of freshly shredded coconut  becoming one with a melting jaggery amidst pinches of cardamom powder , and raisins joining the fun.  Sandalwood making it presence felt , amidst agarbattis , all of this contributing to what I might call a puja fragrance.

 Like hot summers redolent with fragrances of ripening mangoes,  and pieces of raw mango fussing about with  salt, red chilly powder, hing and methi seeds fried crisp and crushed ; pickle smells that drew the neighbours to your house, to taste and nod approvingly, as your grandmother/mother beamed  amidst the tadkas.

Like a parched Earth, achingly dry,  and the amazing fragrance of the Earth smiling as it looked up at the first rain o the season. I could say "wet earth" but Geeli Mitti says it so much better. A fragrance that draws the most stuffy person out of the house, to inhale deeply, and beam in approval at the kids getting wet in the first rain of the season.

Like the ajwain leaves, blooming in profusion,  and emanating a cleansing fragrance as you pluck some, and go forth to make the pakodas with the leaves, something always enjoyed in the rains. (Greedy folks like me also enjoy them throughout the year).

Like the smell of ginger being grated and added to the water boiling away to make tea;  like some mint leaves awaiting their rendezvous with the same;  and sometimes cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves,  behaving like mature seniors waiting their turn.

Like a roomful of Mamis , wearing flowers in their hair, gajras with heavenly fragrance, all assembled in traditional silks for a Haldi kukum , a sudden sprinkle of rosewater, while a creeping smell of frying kadhipatta  emanates quietly from the kitchen .

We have so many fragrances to celebrate.   Very Indian fragrances  which are part of our lives. 

Godrej Aer, wants us to  suggest fragrances which are crowd sourced.  There can be none better than those that celebrate our Indianness.

The International Journal of Obesity has papers by Dutch researchers, that say that food smells need to be avoided by those trying to reduce their weight.  Apparently, non-food smells like pine and cut-grass reduce appetite.

Wait. There are, however, other smells that are part of reducing weight.  The smell of lemon squeezed in warm water, the smell of sweat, as you drip after a  good run in the morning, and strangely the smell of your tired socks, as you fling them, with a grimace , into the washing machine....

Clearly pine smells and cut grass do not make the grade. 

And so the Godrej types should introduce fragrances like  Adrak Crush,  Turmeric Temptation (ever smelt turmeric leaves ?),  Royal Saffron, Puja Sandalwood,  Geeli Mitti,  Kairi Methi,  Amazing Ajwain,  Sweet Coconut,  Sinful Cinnamon,  Pretty Green Pepper,  Stuck-up Cloves, and even  Nutty Nutmeg.   

Naturally, there will be Jai Jasmine,  My Mogra,  Resplendent Rose, Chamak Champa, and  Truly Tulsi , for times when you are full. 


And for times, when you are really hungry, and cannot afford to eat (for whatever reasons, health or economical) ,  a  Biryanical Fragrance  to satiate and mislead the brain the Dutch researchers talk about.....  

(Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger Godrej Aer #InspireAFragrance contest)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

All about all !

Indra Nooyi,  interviewed by Bradley of the Atlantic Magazine, declares "Women cant have it all !" .   


We've known about it.  And we deal with such stuff .  And get on with our lives.  Just that no one interviews us, and goes gaga over small snippets dealing with crowns, milk, PTA meetings and proxy permissions to kids.

It really depends on which part of this phrase/sentence we emphasize.

For someone  like my household help "S",  the key word is "have". 

As a "woman" she has braved life a thousand times more than I have;  she doesn't have the time to debate over whether she has a work-life balance or no.  Between being a single mother with a violent absentee (for the last 25 years)  husband, educating her 4 kids single handedly, caring for an aged mother, and now dealing with the education system and complicated certificates  to give her grand kids something she never got ,  she kind of gets a balance  only when she helplessly falls sick, and has to stay home from her own work. Her kids, plead with her to be a SAHM, now that they all work,  but she , with no pension systems, feels she must work, like her own mother, till her legs allow her.  She doesn't ponder over the haves or have-nots. Her sons too , are busy earning a living in an honorable way. Man or woman is not the issue. Theorizing about stuff is a non-activity.

For so many of us middle class types, the key word is "all" .    

For some, "all" is about a well paying  posh job, doing up your house,  annual vacations, children in schools that charge fees equivalent to down payment on a house for people like "S', a husband who looks after the kids because the wife accepts a transfer on promotion outstation,  no other aged family dependents and a house that, well, runs by itself.   " All "  is attainable, but difficult.  Sometimes requiring mental compromises, skewing the balance.

For some, "all"  is having a job, with flexible hours, ability to work from home, an understanding boss, grandparents chipping in with time for kids,   a lower remuneration is accepted simply because it is more important that  her time be her own to decide,  and the house be a home rather than a house.

For some, "all" is the good fortune to have worked, and been able to stop whenever children or parental care demanded it.  It is the ability to redefine your needs to exclude extraneous factors, and enjoy living on one person's salary, without agonizing about how your kitchen is old-style while xyz got German style counters and trolleys.

And for some, so many who have seen it all,  "all" is about managing the stresses inherent in ageing, modern ailments,  spiralling costs,  declining moral standards, and suddenly finding out that things are exactly opposite of what you thought they were.  Having it "all" is the ability to handle reverses without falling prey to psychological afflictions, and being your own Prozac . 

I read the Indra Nooyi interview.  I realize that the events she mentions are representative of her convictions about not having it all.  Maybe she should have chosen better.

I don't understand the milk stuff.  Don't they have phones ? Landlines? Cell phones ?  If the mother cannot call Indra Nooyi personally at work, what the point in being so powerful? Couldn't she call and ask her to get milk ?  Secretaries in the US system often organize and order out for sandwiches and stuff for their bosses. The secretary could have ordered the milk.  That is called efficient organization .   Hundreds of working women  in Mumbai, share grocery responsibilities with their spouses, and no one or their spouse thinks it is demeaning to stop someplace on the way home to pick up stuff. All it takes is a call or a text message.  Why all this fuss mixing up  crowns, milk, mothers and tired spouses ?  

And then the business about secretaries giving permissions to your kids to play some video game. Because you are too busy to speak to your child.  This is confusing . Isn't there a grandma in the house ?   Can the child not speak to the father at work  if the mother is unavailable at her place of work ?  Or is there something about new standards  being followed here ?  Reminds me about an interview being given once by a well known Indian industrialists wife, herself a prominent society person, who said, that as a way of teaching their children , that there exist hardships in life , on foreign vacations, the kids travel economy class, while the parents travel first class.  Wow !    

The story about highlighting absentees at the PTA meeting because Nooyi couldn't go herself,  actually sends a wrong message. Either she doesn't respect the educational system in the US, or has no qualms about her daughter learning  that. 

Never mind.

I wish Mr Bradley  of the Atlantic comes to India.

I can introduce him to so many women who can really tell him what "all" is.  How it changes with age , and how so many smart women here handle the "having it all " or "not having it all " stuff , quietly working at it.

And I am sure they will give better examples.  


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Chronicles of "JevaN" *

I am not an ad person. 

 I don't need page 3 type exposures to bring people to the food table.  No fancy food poses, unusually shaped containers or complicated artistic procedures with a history of culinary malfunctions.

 To me, "plating"  has always been about covering something with something else, as in silver, coated in , say, 1 gram gold; and not about some sauce leaving scratchy foot prints  across a white plate, while some lettuce and mint balances itself precariously on what was once a part of a chicken , sitting in the centre of the plate, watched by the disgusted french fries.

It is about someone coming home at noon, hot in the mid-day sun, splashing water on the face, and  standing under a ceiling fan before been drawn to the meal.

The aroma of Ambemohor rice, as all the grains huddle together, puffed with confidence, in a winning skirmish in hot water .  Their emergence on to the table, amidst a steam studded opening, followed by an excited Lady Ghee, in a translucent golden trance.

A much heralded arrival of of the self obsessed Saadha Varan, quietly searching for lemon pieces, salt sprinkles, and other chamchaas.   A great meeting, or as Nikhil Wagle  of IBN Lokmat would say, a Great Bhet ,  with the rice, a churning of the two, watched with great interest by the lemon pickle, nudged by the papad types, curling cynically, and wondering how much more fuss was happening. 

And then it is almost like a Durbar. 

With folks sitting to the left and right of the centre. As is the custom .

Cucumbers with their immense Cool Quotient, in a homogenous coalition with  chilly coriander item number types,  sometimes accompanied by the Moongfali Dadas, with their ambitions roasted and  crushed.  Occasionally dahi or yogurt plays peacemaker,  and results in a very Khamang Kaakdi.  Clearly displays  certain leftist tendencies in the seating  in the Durbar.

Boiled, scrubbed,  potato pieces, having emerged from a Traumatic Tadka Trial, in the company of of the Kadhipata and Mirchi ladies,  comforted by the Dhaniya-Lemon juice gang,  trying to cool things down, and they all go through some stirring emotions, before appearing in the Durbar. That too, on the right side,  clearly tongue tickling in attitude,   giving superior looks to the proletarian leftist Kakdis. 

And then , the pièce de resistance.

Hot, spotted, Jowar Bhakris, having emerged through a trial by fire on the stovetop,   opening up and showing heart , at the thought of meeting white butter , that has been waiting anxiously  , ever since it escaped from the buttermilk folks.

They arrive where the rice once was,   and settle down with a sigh, awaiting the Pithla girls.  Both of them , the Bhakri and Pithla, have always been a pair, and played together in harmony. 

Pithla. A languorous , brightly yellow, sunny, spicy, almost burning, thick confabulation of Besan and water, thickening the mystery,  in traditional cast iron premises, supervised by the standard adrak-lasoon, onion mirchi  union,  sometimes blessed with old dried red chilly grandmas.

A lovely meal, happening in real time, with Bhakris arriving  every four minutes, al a Mumbai Metro,  avidly waiting to meet the Pithla and Khamang Kakdi  show stoppers.

Sometimes, some independent chutney and pickle types make it to the Durbar too,  and cause a bit of heart burning.

But not to worry. 

Like the Speaker of the august Durbar,  always a lady,    Her Sweet Tanginess, Madame Taak (often called Chhaas by some)  is always there, to cool things down , by the glass.  "Please, please, relax, sit down ....please please..."

Of course , occasionally there is a protest by some folks like Shrikhand who think they should have been invited.  

To this Durbar.

Yes, the Durbar.  With the members resplendent in their special containers from Borosil.  

The Rice, Deep in the Round Casserole with lid.  

Saadha Varan,   a bit more square and conservative, comfortable in a Square Dish with Lid to keep the flavours in.

Khamang Kaakdi, true to its modern attitude, at peace in a Designer Bowl Set.

The Potato sabji , very aware of its position in the meal, insisting on sitting in the Grill and Drop Round Casserole. 

The Pithla girls insisting on arriving in the Mini Oval Dish set to meet the Bhakris.

The Bhakris, of course, preferring to rest on arrival , for a short period, in the Fluted Dish. 

Eyed jealously, by the lemons pieces, pickles and salt  resident in the mini Square Dish Set .

And how can we forget the White Butter, and Golden Ghee , quietly sitting side by side, in the Baby Gourmet Bowls Set, waiting for the lead players to arrive. 

And finally, a Vision Jug, to hold, the very visionary and wise Madame Taak.


But in the fitness of things,  this really is all about the Aam Meal .

Imbibed by folks all across my state, whether on the 30th floor of a highrise, or a small one room enclosure alongside a village field.  

May or may not make it to Master Chef or Paris or whatever.

But will, always , without fail, make it,  to the hearts and stomachs, of those who slurp and enjoy the simplest of meals.....


* Jevan ~ Marathi for "meal"

(Submitted as an entry for the Borosil-Indiblogger "My Beautiful Food" Contest. )

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Least Count Syndrome....

No.  This has nothing to do with elections, faulty EVM's  and the like.

But something more basic.  




Way back, 50 years ago, when I was in 9th grade, I remember starting on Physics as a separate subject in school, as opposed to a bouquet of scientific subjects cobbled together as "General Science". A sense of having come up in the world consequent  to now attending these classes , unlike earlier, in a special spiffy  lab, the year began with an "introduction to measurements"  and put forth the concept of Least Count.

It wasn't rocket science, it wasn't new, but it gave a name to something we instinctively knew.  Every instrument that measured something  had a minimum measurement which it could do with great accuracy. That defined a "least count"  of that instrument.  For example, a scale or ruler marked only in integer centimetres, would never measure things in millimetres accurately.  

And so you had the world, the measuring instrument, and the answers. For different scales of measurement , clearly, there were different measuring methods, ranging from micrometres, verniers, mileage measuring methods, to spectroscopy, audiometres etc etc. Each did excellently on its own, but would probably go haywire if used for something it as not supposed to measure.

We as humans, measure the world around us in various ways.  Eyes, ears,  A sense of touch.   Sometimes, the measuring is more complex, where something is observed by us, and analyzed and reacted to, by our brains.

For many years, I have felt, that every human body, as a machine is blessed with a unique least count.  It can be defined as an optimum level of information showering, that brings a level of comfort as we seek a conclusion or solution from it.

5 decades ago, there were no mobile phones. Heck, our first rotary phone happened when i was in 8th grade. Many times , particularly in rain storms, it would be dead, thanks to entaglements of branches in wires and so on.  When you interacted with anyone on the phone, and then the people were unreachable, you calmly waited for them to appear in person, or maybe call back on their own; sometimes a half a day would go by before folks started getting into a panic mode.  Everyone did not have phones, and so life was lead with a sense of optimistic belief in things.  In crunch situations , the phone, regardless of ownership was available to whoever needed it .

Today, we have mobile phones, cell phones, pagers , etc etc. The ability of the phone to move with the user, has meant that you get almost minute to minute updates from whoever you are tracking.  There are things like Twitter and other social media , where people post in real times about situations. For the person on whom all this information impinges,  it is like an avalanche. 

An inability to reach someone traveling alone, phones being announced as unreachable, switched off etc,  bring horrifying visions to mind, thanks to what we see in the news these days.  

You start off for the airport, and read Twitter updates about traffic and jams on the Mumbai flyovers, and you agonize endlessly about missing flights, missing exams, and deadlines.

You see 'n'  missed calls from someone you haven't seen for a while, and you start imagining things.

It isn't terribly clear, that the human body can handle such an onslaught optimally. In the sense that something has to give. 

We were a society, that was not clobbered with so much data, but thougtfully chewed upon and analysed and digested what was on offer, and sensibly came to conclusions.  The speed with which we constantly measured events was in consonance with what the brain/mind was designed for, optimally.  And so, back then, you never heard of psychiatric treatments, anxiety and panic syndromes, depressions etc in daily life. Yes, there were patients, but it was more of a physiological affliction.

The human body, I think, as a measurer, has a certain least count.  The avalanche of information has to match that interval.  Then it leads or might lead , to a meaningful answer or interpretation , in conclusion. 

Today, we live a life of palpitations with more than 100 news sources drowning us in an avalanche,   sms's and Whatsapp  forwards add the chutney and the pickle,  and anxiety and panic syndromes are the order of the day.  The body/brain/mind  is unable to measure things smaller than a certain optimum size and come to gainful conclusions.   And so there are random, kneejerk results,   that show up in a messed up physiology and chemistry of the body.  Stress rules, and diseases follow. 

They always advise you exercises and meditation etc.  It probably serves to reorganize, and finalize concretely the least count of your body machine , so you can face the world better.


Having said all this, Google Glass came to mind.    

Clearly ,   I give up. 

On second thoughts, No,  Thank you.

I already have glasses of my own....... 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cakes, lights and other stories

(This post was inspired by a comment made by a friend on FB.   Regarding the custom of smearing birthday cake on  the birthday person's face.  And how we disapprove....)

My sole oldest memory is from 59 years ago.  I actually remember.

My fifth birthday. A fairly cold December night in Pune. Our house had a first floor terrace then (subsequently converted to living space)  and there were folks sitting on chairs strewn around, shawls, kids in sweaters , playing, a dark looking cake with a Santa Claus on it, sitting on the dining table along with other eats, brought out there for the occasion.  

Cakes were not de rigeur for birthdays in those days, or in the area where we lived,  but a locality in Pune Cantonment had a certain western ethos, and possibly folks had got the cake from there. Christmas was the next day, so possibly, there were cakes available. I don't remember cutting the cake or blowing candles,  but i remember all of us getting a piece, and me being stubborn and insisting on eating the Santa Claus.  Only to find it was not made of sugar , but clay......

Very clearly,  there was no gorging on cake, but it was imbibed like prasadam in small quantities , amidst many other child friendly goodies cooked by the folks.  

Strangely, I don't remember any other birthdays involving cakes, then.

Cut to a time,  when my children were small, and one baked cakes at home, combined them, shaped them,  iced them  and decorated them for birthdays. The birthday child , sometimes with goggle eyed friends, often sat on the dining table observing the icing, the chocolate, and there were many occasions when the icing was accidentally magically smeared on a child's hand, and was licked away gleefully. Candles were lit, blown with great strength, and the cake was cut and distributed.  The portions were now bigger.  And kids demanded second helpings. Amidst many other menu items. 

Somewhere in the late 80's and early nineties,  ready made cake shops made an appearance.  Cakes had amazing icing patterns and designs, no figures were made of clay, and kids started overdosing on sugar.  Yes, these cakes were then still expensive, globalization had happened, expectations had increased, and keeping up with the Joneses was considered important by some.

Somewhere in this century,  we lost it.  

Sense, that is. 

It is now considered smart to go for a birthday party,  applaud while the cake is cut, feed the same piece to select few (jhoota cake was unacceptable in my time) , and then  smear handfuls of the cream/icing/cake on the birthday person's face, in a massive disregard for the value and function of food.  I am not aware of anyone licking it all back.
It is now considered smart to hire hotel spaces for birthdays, and pay through your nose.

It is now considered smart to be knowledgeable about buffet meals costing more than a second/first  class monthly season ticket on Central Railway , for a single meal for a single person.  Being knowledgeable is one thing. Routinely visiting these places  avidly is something else.  Eat as much as you want.  The size of your stomach remains finite.  You gorge to get value for money.    

It is now considered smart to use the appellation "only" after outrageous prices for sometimes substandard food, beautifully presented.

It is now considered smart to leave food on your plate, and remnants of a drink in your glass, that held a drink with a weird name  .


And I wonder, and go back to the days when  we ate, without complaining , the meal of the day, as it appeared in our plates.  Shoving unpopular bhaajis behind dal katoris was always detected,  and we had to literally finish up our meals and polish our plates till we could see our own images in them. 

Food wasting was an unforgivable crime, and we never had TV shows to tell us that otherwise was OK.  Simply because there was no TV then. Forget cable.

The cake was never the main feature of a birthday.

And then, there is something that has puzzled me no end.

Modern customs, require the lighting of candles, and a subsequent successful blowing them off .  Extinguishing them, and letting them lie forlornly to one side while the cake was attacked.

The original custom that we still follow, involves lighting of lamps , along with a spoonful of rice, haldi, kumkum, and an arti of the birthday child, as he/she sits east-west  in front of the family Gods. 

The lamps are not blown away .

The Arti thali is always left in front of the Gods, the lamps still burning, with a sense of gratitude.

I think that sense, is what we have lost......




Monday, June 16, 2014

Inaugural Pressures

It was all about buying a new pressure cooker.

For years, she used an old dabba cooker, like a dedicated steamer, and often ended up waiting for the dal to cook while the rice exulted in victory, in the early morning cooking hours before she left for work.

Now things were close to becoming reality.  The folks who mattered were in agreement. The funding was organized. Sizes were looked at and finalized. The engineering was  analyzed from the safety point of view, after consulting experienced types, who had had harrowing times when the dal and rice had hit the fan and the ceiling.

She wanted a functional, safe  technology, never mind the aesthetics.   Some wanted some colors, and a futuristic look.  Some thought it should cater to the future ,when consumption would increase , and enhanced quantities would be the order of the day.  Some spoke about grabbing a good deal when they saw one,  and they would deal with the future later.

And so they brought it home, one sunny weekend, just before the monsoons set in. The  book that came along waxed eloquent on fancy company names, technologies, international connections, and a set of recipes in a fat book alongside.

The pressure cooker was inaugurated.  

But they forgot to check the diameter of the pressure cooker, vis a vis the placement of burners on the stove. When you started to use the new pressure cooker, you could basically NOT use the closest burner, because  it was too close, and no vessel would fit there.

Then they had problems  with the utensils that went inside the cooker.  The diameter of these was big, and there were problems getting them inside.

So they ended up getting a new burner stove.  In the hoopla of acquiring new things, someone suggested an extra burner in the stove, and so the budget was enhanced to get a new multi burner automatic flame lighting stove.   

While she rummaged amidst her old vessels to see if she could find some to fit in a multiple way inside the cooker,  they laughed and said new vessels were the order of the day.  So three stackable utensils were purchased as a set . You couldn't buy them  piecewise.

So yes. The pressure cooker now works.

Food gets cooked fast, but with the caveat that one steam pressure cooks all.  Some things get overcooked, some get cooked just right; some lose, some win.  The old facility of the dabba cooker where she had no pressure while cooking, and you could check and move things in and out of the cooker, when things had cooked al dente, clearly did not exist now.  And so many vegetables that tended to get overcooked in the new cooker, were now cooked directly with oil and water added later.

Then there is always some maintenance in terms of  rubber rings and seals.  Some guys at the corner do a brisk business in replacement seals and rings.  And never mind if these are authentic technology parts or not.

They, the family ,  have learned to make do.

Like we have learned to make do, ourselves.

Many years ago, it was about observing paths treaded by those before us.  These  paths were created and treaded, based  on many considerations, like  absolute priority need,  ability to keep communication with stake holders alive, minimum disturbance to those around,  environmentally sound technologies,  respect for life, respect for food , great work ethic, and willingness to work hard.

There were no inaugurations, no speeches, but lots of prudence and a sense of pride in what was being tried.  Money was respected, and so, never thrown around. Whether it was yours, or someone else's .

Years and years of treading a tough path by those who went before us,  created roads for us;   and we followed,  mindful of well defined pitfalls with well defined solutions. The option of resurfacing that road because you did not like the layout , did not exist.  

But yes, based on the new traffic situation,  you probably introduced graded progress lanes, and  walking lanes.

Without any stupid inaugurations. 

Bandra Kherwadi inauguration today
Today , we hold up usage of badly needed road infrastructure, because some person who needs to publicise his participation in that venture  does not have the time to come and cut a ribbon.   When he does decide to come, we spend days erecting huge shamianas in the middle of the road, complete with speech podium, public address systems, and 250 plastic chairs.  Another day to dismantle it all.

And lo behold. The new road/flyover/ramp is inaugurated.   Guys in suits fawn around guys in white jhabbas/jackets. Contractors are paid,  new tenders are issued. And life goes on.

Or should I say, the road goes on.

Till at some point the rains expose the pothole technology .   Or sudden caving in of the road surface, clearly ashamed of its inability to bear the weight of its assigned responsibility..   

Once again, new technologies, new machines, new repairs, new bills, new payments, but simply no attention to those who would be traversing those paths.



In the meanwhile,  she is at her wits end, because the cooker handle got banged, it doesn't fit properly, and their is no pressure developing  in the cooker.  She has already changed the gasket  and the  seal, with improvement.

Time for a new cooker.  New technologies. New whistles.

And life goes on........

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Kaunsi Degree Hai ?

More than a year ago, my household help, "S." ( who has to-date been the subject of many blog posts ), came to me and requested me to write a letter for her.

Not that her family could not write. But she thought, that since it pertained to a facility on our campus,  I would be able to state the facts better in the application, and also introduce her and her family. 

She herself is classified as illiterate, but is one of the most naturally educated ladies I know.  With a Ph.D in Common Sense. Summa Cum Laude or whatever  they say in Latin.

She struggled and succeeded in educating her own kids, in municipal schools, singlehandedly , upto class X.   She has  a daughter in law who is a class XII graduate. The adults all work.  And she was now literally mobilising ideas and resources to educate her grand kids, 2 of whom stayed with her.

Resources, because the eldest grand kid was already in school, the family having taken a loan of 15 thousand, to pay for his admission, necessities, tuitions, et al. In the local English medium school.   Now it was time for the sibling to start school, and It was possible, that they could apply under RTE to our school on our campus, which was also an English medium school, but much cheaper. Both kids could apply there, and they would be set till Junior college.  

I wrote a letter for her, and they found out that they had just missed the deadline for admissions under RTE, for the local campus school, and would now have to apply after a year.

This year, I asked and reminded her about the RTE and the admissions. And was surprised to hear, that the family decided that the second kid would also go to the same school as the elder kid, expensive fees and all.

Which brings to light the sad uninspiring state of primary education in India.

The appointment of Smruti Irani as Minister for HRD has  so many baying from the rooftops about the absence of a degree in her CV.   Scratch a sleeping person and say the word "Education" and he will respond back on auto-reply  with the word "degree".

Yet, up to now, education has always meant more IIT's,  IIM's, and assorted colleges.  Assorted officially appointed highly qualified  folks with several degrees around their necks, officially disburse crores for education.  Schemes named  after politicians of yore are announced , and assorted ads show up on television.  Newspapers get into tangles reporting of profiles of students applying for premier institutes, and the cutoffs for various categories, of students as well as streams of learning.

In the meanwhile, spurious education institutes spring up out of nothing, with studied non-monitoring from those that should monitor.  They function out of single rooms, and basically sell qualifications.  The government, puts out  a list once in a while  listing these  institutes, but does nothing to shut them down. 

Education , is now a successful business proposition, thanks to the obsession of the public, and the demand , for "degrees" ...

Primary education, has always been about putting up buildings in rural areas,  without associated infrastructure, absence of maintenance,  lack of facilities , lack of teachers, and basically  no followup. Allocate the money , show it in the annual report, and your work is done.  You celebrate the girl child, but you cannot ensure sanitary set ups in schools for use by the girls, who often drop out as teenage approaches. Whatever success there has been so far, has been solely due to some dedicated folks who continue to slog in schools, despite the material shortcomings, transfers of school teachers due to ego clashes, and in the face of  political lack of will , electoral politics and so on.

Can this government put a moratorium for , say five years, on the creation of more engineering and medical colleges ?  Can this government study and analyse, why the government should be involved in things like fashion design ?  Can this government dedicate the next 5 years, to improving primary education in India, in a holistic way, where it extends beyond decrepit leaky unmaintained buildings with stolen plumbing and unsanitary surroundings ?  Can this government overhaul and decentralize the mid-day meal schemes to involve the mothers of children in the decision making process and the entire operating procedures? 

Maybe we have forgotten, that mothers never go to school or college to learn how to mother .  They learn on the job, with the help of family, and sometimes despite and without them. 

As it happened in the case of "S."  who was abandoned by her husband  and left to bring up 4 small kids , all by herself.  30 years down the line, she is still asked to provide the "caste" certificate of her non existent husband,  for being part of any government scheme, be it education, health or housing. That she has her own certificate, simply never counts. They do not accept it.  

I think Smruti Irani will be good for the post for which she is appointed. I have heard her talk.  She has mentioned  initiating an involvement of parents in the education process. It is now time to give a chance to someone who is unburdened by the weight of hefty degrees round her neck.

We are always so fond of spouting sayings like " Teach a fellow something , he will improve himself; but teach a mother something, and she will help bring up the family in the world....."

This is so true.

In reality, they will teach, the mother will learn, but at the end of the day, she will be asked , "Kaunsi degree hai ?"......

Time to change .   




Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Jab We Met .....

I've often felt, to the complete consternation of some folks who think I need a checkup, that, as a society beset with problems, there is a lot the human body can teach us ,  on how to handle them.

I also have a possibly outrageous notion, that all our body organs can think.  I know they say that there is a brain facility in the stomach/intestine system.  Maybe they will find the others later. 

A furious little boy, eyes full, coming home from school, kicking every stone in his path and whacking every tree within a stick length. 

He doesn't know what he is angry with. 

He has been teased . Told that he was found in the trash.

Because he is an adopted child.  

And those who teased him learned whatever they did from their own parents, who are the unfortunate manifestation,  of misuse , or actually , under utilization, of the so called evolved human cerebral cortex.   

Think of the human body.   A woman's body. And the Uterus.

It is a case of "Jab We Met" Or "When X met Y" .

An Ova with 23 chromosomes, meets up with  a Sperm with 23 chromosomes. They click. 

And the uterus, unconcerned with their origin, mobilizes to do what it is an expert at.  Namely providing intelligent housing for the embryo that results. Intelligent because it must interact with the mother's body as well as the baby's, and maintain a balance favouring the latter.

It provides a safe house for the singe cell , which has the amazing ability to subdivide and make copies of itself.  The nucleus of the cell has the coded instructions in protein strings  on what is to be done. And so it develops an outer  set of the cells, an inner set of cells and an intermediate set of cells  in the first 5 days of the grand positive meeting of the Ova and the Sperm.  The outer set of cells becomes the placenta which is the communication centre of the mother and child, the uterus and the mother's body, through which nutrition and messages flow.

Through all this wondrous development in the formation of a child , with all the requisite organs developing in a preplanned manner,  the Uterus performs to the best of its ability, constructively cooperating with the foetus and taking excellent care.

It does not speculate on the origin or circumstances  of either the Sperm or the Ova. 

It does not speculate on the morality or  social classification of the  donators of the sperm and ova. 

It is simply none of its business. 

It simply does what it is supposed to do.  Protect the foetus.  Monitor and manage resources for the foetus via the placenta .  And run its self-monitoring system for the foetus as it grows .     

It is a tough job.  The casing of the uterus, the human body, is not still. It is an active machine, that exercises, runs, stands, sits, shudders, bends, overdoes things, becomes despondent at times, unleashing a slew of hormones. There are other parts of the human body that have their own idiosyncrasies and behaviours.  The Uterus must understand and deal with all, screening the foetus the best way it can , from possible problems.

And yet, it reaches  its peak period of 208 days  , and introduces a new member to this world.  This one comes with its own properties, based on the dominance or recessive traits  that result, when the 23 Chromosome Ova  meets with the 23 Chromosome Sperm.  At no time, has the foetus (now child) been discriminated for the circumstances of when X met Y.

Unfortunately, our society never learns from these organs. Children are abandoned, mistreated and ignored, and the lucky ones manage to reach some institute , where they get a life.  Some lucky ones, also end up getting parents.

I wish our society would learn from the Uterus.  Honor the child.  Don't humiliate it based on what you think is its origin.  Teach your children to respect the human body.

Yes, there are traits in every child  that arise out of dominant genes of each of the parents.  It is also known that if it is a male child , it stands to inherit certain physiological  tendencies from the father  .  The female child never does.   And despite knowing this, the human uterus does an unbiased nurturing of the foetus, whether it is male or female.     

And yes. The Uterus mobilizes for use again and again.  To the best of its ability, till many years later, it fatigues, kind of retires, and sits away quietly, shorn of all its energy and vitality.  A life spent doing excellently what it is supposed to do, actually producing fruits,  which it must give up, and a final fading into the cavities so to speak.  Like the heart,  another organ that follows the philosophy of the Bhagwad Geeta , pertaining to working without consideration of the fruits of your labour.

Do we learn from this ?  NO.

Does our so called education teach us this ? NO.

We are a society where children learn from parents that blood has only 2 groups. Our blood , and Their blood.  And how it is different.  And how Ours is always superior.   And Theirs,  is mired in trash.  ( I have actually heard such a comment. From an ex-adoptive parent, who simply, returned the child, and then remained childless and what else, superior .....)

I hope that furious little boy who came home upset and confused, grows up into a fine, sensitive, and respectful young man, and honors the folks who gave him a family and a life. 

I hope he is wildly successful in whatever he wants, works hard for it, never losing the empathy he has for those not as fortunate as him.  

I hope he meets someone with similar thinking, and they bring up their own children differently, than what he experienced amidst  classmates, in his childhood.
I hope he respects the human body and its capabilities and learns never to abuse it.

There is much to learn from it. 

We have a cerebral cortex which allows us to do that.

They say it has evolved.

For some folks, err....  "superior" folks ....  , it clearly has not.     


Monday, May 19, 2014

Just saying ......

Just imagine.

He never played gully cricket, where the gully was actually a common narrow balcony for 10 flatlets, studded with extra furniture.

He never shuddered nervously at having broken some one's window pane with a misdirected shot, because someone else paid for the damage.

He never traipsed back from school, dragging sticks and stuff, walking together with his friends, and never had to suddenly break into a run on sighting a strange guy making dirty noises and actions.

He probably never got rapped on the knuckles with a metal ruler in school. Or stood outside IIIA holding his toes.

He never travelled in lumbering tilted red Double Decker buses or suburban trains with a population blooming out of its doors, and never ever struggled to extricate his school bag when he disembarked at his destination.

He never suffered the ignominy of having his PE white uniform splattered with mud as a fancy car sped by through a puddle while he waited to cross a road.

He never queued up. Period.

For admission to college, in pouring rain, in knee deep water, clutching close his certificates , only to have some doors close for lunch.

For tickets to outstation places in the holidays.

For paying exam fees, and getting hall tickets. Movie tickets (in the days before the Net).

For using machines and computers in labs at college , in the early days before laptops and desktops, when  talk was rich and resources were not. For copies of library books, where the text book was outrageously expensive. 

For lunch in a college canteen/cafeteria and heard "khatam ho gaya" when he asked for saambar..

He never worried about a job interview.  Or where he might have to stay. Or whether he could afford house payments. And even a first class quarterly train pass with a starters salary.

Potholes filled themselves when he travelled across them.  He never had to worry, or even think about the price of petrol, gas cylinders, electricty, telephones et al.

 He never had to travel where he entered a bus through a window, because the door was jammed with people.  He never sat in a three seater train bench, and had someone come and ask him to shift a bit, "jara sarkoon ghyaa".....   .  He probably was never shocked at french beans going for Rs 40  for 250 gms, simply because he never had to actually buy them or even cook them.   

He never worried about his job profile, because a non existent job means a non existent profile.  He was his own profile.

 He never had a deadline because no one set him one. He never tangled with managing cleaning, cooking, supervising kids, entertaining guests, finishing submissions for work.  All in the course of one evening.

No one ever pointed fingers at him, because a sentence was misplaced somewhere in the report.  No one threatened him with a memo, because they did not like his answer to something.  And no one brought the house down because numbers didn't tally at reconciliation .  The reason was always someone else.

He was never a convenient scapegoat because the management thought the customer was always right.  And he never, ever , spent an entire night righting something which someone else had messed up. 

He never ever had to think of increments.  Or bonuses. Strangely, loans, per se, might have been of interest.

He could say anything to anyone, regardless of age, experience of the latter, and his mother never said a word, in situations, where one would have received a public parental rebuke. 

He never worried about breaking rules, because the rules themselves bent themselves all over the place around him.

He never had an appraisal, because, they couldn't find anything to appraise.  And those who tried, gave up less than half way there. As "better" sense prevailed.

And one day, when people actually wanted to point fingers for something they thought he was responsible for,  a bunch of folks rushed to crush those fingers into closed fists, saying  he did nothing wrong,  the responsibility was of those around him and him together, and begged him to continue to do, actually, nothing. 

I wonder how the HR types would advertise for a job that fits the above.

Stupid me.  I am now suddenly interested in concepts like karma, last birth, prarabdh et al.