Wednesday, June 30, 2010
IHM started it. Then I find that Starry has tagged me.
It's about listing at least "ten things you have ever wanted or done which your gender is not supposed to.".....
Thinking about this has been a revelation of sorts. My parents never, ever, stopped me from attempting anything because I was a girl. So a lot of things that are considered traditionally attemptable predominantly by boys , were done by me as a matter of fact, and sometimes even encouraged by my folks. And so I have to search and search in my mental archives way back into the 1950's, and onwards till now.
1. I have often played the driver's role, fairly well, during family crisis situations; almost always when I was unmarried and often after marriage. Driving folks to and fro from hospitals (patients and visitors), reaching folks on trains (jumping in to catch places for them) etc etc. Although certain folks being typical gender stereotypes may disagree snidely, folks will tell you that I have perfected the art of driving in Pune (including the older parts), Mumbai (including crowded traditional south Mumbai places), and at one time , California.
Both are diametrically opposite modes of driving. Abroad it's a science , here it's an art. And here, I do all the stuff like glaring at taxi drivers, gesticulating saying "Kya kar rahe ho/Kya hai ! (=what do you think you are doing?)", "Oye !"... etc...
2. I have lived in the college hostel in my undergraduate years, and no, I was not given a set of do's and dont's by overly concerned types. I discovered them myself.
3. I excel at pushing cars which are stuck in the wet mud and even otherwise. Particularly Fiats, and specifically in torrential rains. I also know how to deactivate a stuck Bendix wheel.
4. Regularly washed my parents' old Ambassador car, because I enjoyed doing so. I have done this while staying in a hi-fi locality , when of a marriageable age, and desperate well meaning ladies had called my mother advising her not to have me doing such things :-) (She told them I was doing it of my own accord. My daughter has "inherited" this DNA)..:-)
5. I have tasted all kinds of alcohol out of sheer curiosity , and formed my own opinion which I follow. While wine sometimes tastes like chilled Drakshaasav, and is okay , the rest of the stuff, beer, hard liqueurs and stuff, tastes like medicine (without the benefits) and is to be avoided like H1N1. The family spent a year in Germany in the early 90's with me only imbibing fruit juices and soft drinks - in a land where I wouldn't be surprised if they bathed in beer....
6. I am amazed at and enjoy my own abilities to cook certain things, and the motivation for the same. The expertise was never a given.
7. As young teenagers, my brother and I were encouraged to learn to change punctured car wheels, and my favourite position was lying under the car, looking for a place to fix the jack.
8. I have climbed on to the back of a truck, and supervised the loading of my parents stuff, when my father retired and they shifted to a new town (given that the loaders were paying scant attention to light and heavy stuff and glass stuff. We didn't have professional packers and loaders back then. (There was me :-)....)
9.If you give me a thousand rupees and a choice between clothes and books, the latter win hands down, everytime.. ...
10. And since we are talking about gender stereotypes, I was honored to be my parents sole caretaker in their old age and last days. They probably knew that, and prepared me for it....
I would like to tag, Kavi, G, Nu, Sucharita, Vivek, Manju, Harish, Neha, and Hiphop GrandMom......
You must write about ten things you have ever wanted or done which your gender is not supposed to.".....and then, in turn, tag some more folks....
Let the XX-XY Games begin......
Sunday, June 27, 2010
A building complex of stone structures with wide corridors and pillars. A middle class ambiance with impressive old British Raj architecture. Unlandscaped open spaces, with old sensible trees, that have been growing there, possibly before any construction commenced. Wide graceful staircases, with steps, that show no chipping over, maybe , the last 100 years .
Arbitrarily angled bicycle stands, willfully made unplanned extensions of single room cottage structures under the shades of trees, with windows cut out and kept open at impractical heights for clients of lawyers, outsiders to communicate, and a single official photocopying set up, available to thousands of folks who throng there everyday, to set right some wrongs, take permissions, ratify life events, and listen to someone pronounce a punishment.
Circumstances and the need to follow certain rules regarding papers pertaining to one's late parents, often necessitate trips to what is called the City Civil Court in my hometown.
On my very first visit, I was totally disillusioned by the size of the courtroom, and the semi ruined furniture, although the cagey enclosure in which I stood and answered the judges polite questions was exactly like in the movies, and no, he didn't bang the gavel. On second thoughts, maybe His Honor did, after I left. I spent the whole day, reading and checking stuff, photocopying stuff, turning pages for court clerks, getting verifications done, and signing here and there, and agreeing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.
On my second visit, the city had a terrorist alert, the main gate was cordoned off, and everyone was being herded in through a side gate. This was manned by a posse of policemen and policewomen who were doing security checks. They were supremely intrigued by a whistle I carry in my purse (more about that here), and were examining it with considerable interest, till I blew on it, to possibly prove that it didn't self destruct along with the blowers etc, causing a bunch of folks to suddenly look in my direction. I have stopped explaining to the police why I carry a whistle. And they have stopped asking.
This was my last visit, after a year. I was to receive the final papers.
This time I was faced with a row of courtrooms with locked doors, unlike previous occasions when they were thronged with lawyers and clients, and court staff. I was to simply accompany the lawyer, sign somewhere and collect papers. The lady lawyer traipsed up and down the place trying to place where the clerk was, and when the latter finally appeared and unlocked the premises, I was shocked by what I saw.
The entire courtroom looked like nothing had occurred there for months. The floor was unclean and full of torn paper, there were heaps of case papers tied in the regulation red cloth waiting to be taken somewhere, the furniture where I had sat earlier awaiting my turn, looked like some one had been throwing it around, chairs had broken arms, and the entire wooden partition between the courtroom and its public office, was simply no more. Gone. This lady sat at old table, looking for my papers.
Turns out the old judge had been transferred on promotion to another city. All the old running cases of that judge, were now distributed and transferred in three different courtrooms with three different judges, in that many different buildings.
Just then , a lady, who appeared to be from a rural area came by, claiming she had to appear in court that day, but there wasn't any Court ! And she, who could probably just sign her name, and was greatly intimidated by anything officialese, was told, after some number checking, to go to another court , to another judge, to the Small Cause Court building. She would forget the name by the time she reached here, but there were no signs and directions for her.
I asked the lady clerk, why someone was not appointed to the existing Court, instead of lugging case papers to new judges in new courts, and troubling the clients so much, as they wandered around looking for places.
It seems the existing judge had been a senior judge. To appoint someone to his place, it would mean someone would need a promotion first. And for some ununderstandable reason, the judiciary couldn't do that. And so a huge amount of cases got delayed, possibly papers were searched again, and studied again for the nth time, by a new judge, case papers yellowed at the edges, and the old courtroom remained abandoned , desolate, unclean, and dismantled.
This is really the story of the backlog of judicial cases in courts in India.
The monied clients manage to fight, sue, appeal, and get judges to attend to their cases , all in one week. Murders of high society, well heeled, glamorous types, get immediate redressals. Two warring business brothers, get court dates at will, to adjudicate in a fight that shouldn't have happened in the first place. Even IPL cricket related cases are given priority consequent to someone earning a few more millions than someone else, and to hell with the game, anyway.
Today, ( as of Aug 16, 2009), there are 52,000 cases pending in the Supreme Court, 40,00,000 cases in the High Courts, and 20.7 million cases pending in trial courts across the land. The PM has, urged the Chief Justices to expedite cases, create a large number of special rural courts, and identified unfilled judge vacancies as the main cause. Almost 3000 posts of judges lie unfilled, because of recruitment delays.
The Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court has revealed in a report that it will take 466 years to clear the huge backlog of cases, despite racing through each case in an average time of 4 minutes and 55 seconds, and there are 600 cases that are at least 20 years old. India has 11 judges for every million people compared to the US having 110 judges for a million people. The Delhi High court has a sanctioned judge strength of 48, but only 32 are actually appointed. The Union Justice Ministry has asked for and increase of 50 more judges per million people by 2013, but the government is wondering how to pay for a massive overhaul like this. Amazingly the same government finds more than adequate money for statues, junkets, and the like, not to mention hikes in salaries of our esteemed legislators, who almost always have innovative "other" incomes.
Common folks have lost faith in getting any justice in reasonable time. Litigation is actively pursued as a valid time wasting and delaying technique, sometimes in cahoots with the powers that be.
While I agonize over the size of the dent on the country's planned/unplanned expenditure, if they give a promotion to, and appoint a judge , for the abandoned courtroom where I earlier appeared, no one seems to be , as they say in court, seized of the matter.
I guess things could really be worse.
Lal Bihari, a native of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, was suddenly declared "dead" by his cousins in 1976, because they wanted to usurp his land. Some official consequently probably made a killing and retired happily, but Lal Bihari started proceedings to declare that he himself, was alive. His village called him a ghost, and drove him out, after beating him. He then resorted to all kinds of stuff to prove he was alive and kicking. He abused a judge, assaulted a District magistrate and threw paper balls from the gallery into the State assembly, and even contested an election against some prominent politician. It took him 18 years, for the Court to notice and declare him alive. He is so fed up, he doesn't bother about reclaiming his land now, and is a petty vendor of sarees.
But in the best traditions of a never-say-die (and never was this truer) attitude, he now affixes a suffix "Mritak (Dead)" to his name (Lal Bihari, Mritak, sounds so tough vis -a-vis say Lal Bihari, Esq), and has started a All India Mritak (Dead Men's) Association. They have 1000 members, and it is known that in eastern Uttar Pradesh, every district has one such case, typically old widows .
But some are plain unlucky.
Paltan Yadav from the same district , in 1988, was once assaulted by his cousins while working in his fields. They attacked him calling him an impostor, and he ran to the village record office to find himself declared dead, and his land transferred to his cousins. He ran from pillar to post and court to court, unsuccessfully. He gave up in 1994, and became a sadhu.
Someone said "Crime takes but a moment but justice an eternity".....
We prove it so well.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Not that I have tangled much with them, but nothing that you read and learn about them can be considered inspiring.
I mean , the black ants variety is much like me, walking a straight path, industriously trudging about, organizing food, making folks think I am working, when actually gallivanting with large groups of friends, with uncontrollable diversions when sweet sugary food items are sighted. Occasionally all that moving of earthy stuff results in formations of ant hills; similar to what people living in Mumbai do, when they take group initiatives in forming innovative, default housing, which the powers then patronize at election time.
But the white variety, officially referred to as termites, are like politicians. They have leaders, workers, queens who send messages to some other functionaries who with tiny antennas decode these messages. In actions reminiscent of powerful types around us, they greedily seek, grab, and amass food, all the while gnawing the life out of solid wooden upright structures, and make important documents useless, by vandalizing them.
At this point I must add that my position as the sole family person handling paperwork post passing away of parents, sometimes snows me under with paper documents. One leaves things in a hurry in some desk or cupboard, and forgets to retrieve them for sometime.
Such a thing happened when I recently collected these documents (FD's or fixed deposit receipts), for further processing at a bank. The heart missed a beat on seeing a fine powder of stuff spread around the various envelopes. Tachycardia almost happened when I opened the envelope to see two FD receipts with artistically eaten gaps , fine powder sitting at the envelope edges, and some minute white creatures resting in false poses of gluttonous somnolence, due to what some may call their sedentary lifestyle.
These were not even in my name. And the entire lot was in small pieces on the top part of each receipt with the lower part showing recent activity of renewed vigour from the creatures.
My first impulse was to clean out the entire cupboard, sort out the destroyed and semi destroyed stuff, and then conduct a massive anti termite treatment there and in the environs.
(The building where I live, is Institutional housing where anti termite stuff has been done at foundation time , and for 18 years I believed it, because I didn't see any termites around. Turns out that termites don't just climb upwards from the soil; they actually fly in organized hierarchical swarms, settle mostly in damp and hot conditions in places where they feel a killing can be made, drop their wings in a blink of an eye, and settle down for a life of gnawing the life out of innocent stuff, like cupboards. Reminds me of some folks whose name appears in newspapers, but never mind.)
I immediately kind of shoved the financial remnants into a Ziploc bag, and a few days ago, visited the bank in Pune where they were issued, Some erstwhile previous smart behaviour had resulted in a photocopy of one of the receipts.
I was a bit skeptical of the bank's official reaction, as there is a tradition of tangling with this bank over some years. Some folks there think I am bad news, some get alarmed when I land up , that too just once or twice a year. Some take their tea break when I go to see some official.
My late father was in the habit of minutely inspecting entries, was hard of hearing, and every time he berated them, it happened in a very loud voice ( as happens with hard of hearing geriatric folks in their 80's), and everyone in the bank , including other customers listened in. I've inherited some of that DNA in spirit, and some folks were looking in extra serious fashion at their screens /ledgers as I approached the desk.
Over the years, I suppose I have become more tolerant, particularly when its my fault :-)
The lady at the FD counter was dealing with a customer. I waited my turn.
"Yes ? What can I do for you ?" A brave smile.
" I have this really terrible problem ...." I hold up the plastic bag, with a a sheet inside.
"Oh ! What happened ? " Now the lady is really intrigued, and sympathetically geared.
"I have these two FD receipts, but the white ants have been eating them into pieces, and I am here with the pieces, as well as a xerox of one of the receipts which I just happen to have. " I opened the Ziploc and emptied the stuff onto a sheet on the counter.
Several staff suddenly left their screens and ledgers, to converge around the sheet. The lady clerk, placed it on her desk to investigate, then paced it right back on the counter, and asked me to talk to their Section Head. They had never seen anything like this, maybe in the history of the bank.
I put on my best stupid and troubled face and approached the Section Head. (Some folks think that is very natural).
He couldn't understand my language, Marathi, and asked me to explain in Hindi. He looked at all the ruins of the FD, and noticed some numbers that made his mouth twitch. He keyed them in to the system, and then looked up.
"Madam, can you take all this stuff away , and reconstruct what is left of each FD by sticking stuff on a sheet of paper , and submit it to me ? " He looks up.
Customer service in Indian banks does not include giving you papers and gum bottles. It is for "staff only". But unusual times ask for unusual risks.
"Sir, could I ask your office for two waste printer sheets, and an old bottle of gum ? The damp of the monsoon may further disintegrate the paper if I go out. " He agrees.
I sit at a central table meant for customers, and solve the FD jigsaw puzzle placing the fraying pieces this way and that , and finally come up with two sheets with FD receipts that look that they have emerged from a war. I am asked to write a covering letter . I approach the section head , watched by the very curious bank staff.
"Ma'am, these FD's have matured two moths ago, and have been auto renewed by our system. Had this not been so, you would have had to do a very complicated procedure getting notarized signatures of all the holders on indemnity bonds etc, for issuance of duplicate receipts. Please hand these to the clerk, and she will issue you the new receipts".
I couldn't believe my luck. The signatories were in a another country, and I had done this kind of long range processing before to know what a hassle it was. I had had my full share of affidavits and court stamps and standing in lines. Maybe the planets were behaving this time. The bank was actually helping . Hurrah!
"Ma'm, they said to give you this", and I handed over the stuff, to the earlier lady clerk. She accepted it and went through the pages, and notings by the section head. Whipped out some very thick ledgers, checked some stuff, and nodded. She asked me to wait. Be seated.
I just waited there. Everything was happening too fast. She made some entries on the screen. Checked some more stuff. Suddenly she scratched her arm and thighs, and looked up.
"Are you sure these white ants are not flying around ? I am suddenly itching. Maybe some stuff kind of descended on me from the FD's..." and she started brushing off imaginary stuff, with an alarmed look.
"Not to worry. I sprayed the stuff before I put it in the bag, which I also sprayed. The ones on the FD are dead , because this has been in the Ziploc for a fortnight and had they been alive they would have chewed up the stuff to smithereens by now." Me.
" I guess , may be it's a psychological thing." Scratch. Scratch. Brush . Brush. She stands up and shakes her kurta.
About fifteen minutes later,I have my new renewed receipts. I thank the lady and walk over to the Section Head to wish him and convey my gratitude.
" Ma'am, its interesting. But your white ants , while marauding through the FD, left untouched the one number that is the key number that allowed me to trace the FD details. They ate up the FD number, the issue date, part of the holders names, maturity date, and even the amounts. And of course, the fact that these FD's have matured , helped." He shakes his head and smiles.
I am in a daze, as I walk out, with the bank probably glad to see my back, and probably wondering what I will come up with next.
But I am wondering.
Do the termites have any secret intelligence ? Have they evolved over the years ? Is it the result of Global Warming, and the damp monsoon pollution in Mumbai ? Do termite brains thrive on hydrocarbons in the air ?
How did they know they couldn't eat through the numerical key pertaining to both the FD's ? Do they have a psychological problem with some inks and numbers, not to speak of certain alphabets ?
Is someone doing some research on the Secret Life of Termites ? Or is it the Secret Life of White Ants ?
Do they follow the 33% reservation for women while deciding which FD's to ignore ( and attack a bit more lightly), given that two holders of this FD were women ? How do they decide which documents to attack in a cupboard full of books, printouts, CD covers, posters and stuff ?
Should I initiate research and publish a paper on " Investigations into the methylation of the DNA of Zootermopsis angusticollis (wood dwelling termites to you non technical types), and the possible development of the termite brain in times of Global Warming in the 21st century.." .......
Will I find some Inconvenient Truth ?
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Apparently, they are able to detect happiness, disgust, fear, anger, surprise and sadness, and that too with 85% accuracy. A computer vision expert in Amsterdam used software developed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to design emotion recognition technology.
It seems they were able to analyze the Mona Lisa, and decided that she was 83 percent happy, 9 percent disgusted, 6 percent fearful, and 2 percent angry. While one could feel fearful and angry based on who the painter is and how well connected he is, I cannot figure out why she would feel disgusted. Unless of course she was thinking of something else while doing that beatific smile. You wouldn't know all this staring at the stuff in the Louvre, but she certainly comes across now as a spirited type.
Of course , they even analysed President George W Bush, giving an Iraq speech, and detected surprise , fear and sadness, which could have been a surprise to the late Saddam Hussain, and maybe , Cheney.
Michael Jackson was analysed from his mugshot emerging from his trial, and turns out he has 33% fearful, and angry and disgusted. I wish there was someone in his home who worried about that. Maybe things would have been different for him later on.
This kind of technology is supposed to be very useful, in detecting, say, when a car driver is feeling sleepy, and the software , say, installed somewhere in the car would immediately ring and alarm that says, Wake up, Stop, "let your wife drive", or whatever.
I have been wondering how we could use this technology here. We already have a technology to detect if a person is lying. Maybe some IT image processing analysis research type could patch the two together. That would be so useful.
You could analyse the Paksitani government spokesperson when he says, they have no clue on the Mumbai terrorist organizers. Every look and dither of an eyebrow would be caught, a quivering moustache would spill the beans, and the angle of the chin to the shoulder would tell other secrets.
You could analyse the Mumbai Municipal corporators, and officials, when they give details about expenditures on road repairs and water supply. Possibly a detection of fear and fibbing amidst the visible bravado, given the various folks breathing down their necks, bent at a secret angle.
Police fellows and honchos, could be analysed when accompanying their Minister bosses and you would be able to possibly get the truth on who is pressured by whom, who is lying and who is disgusted.
The applications of this technology to New Delhi and Parliament are too numerous. I am not too sure if the MP's would go for it. Facial analysis during secret ballot voting might indicate guys who are more than 60% fearful. Those whose faces indicate 80% wild happiness and 20 % complacency are probably those benefitting most in the horse trading. An analysis of the PM's face , while listening to a street-fight-like speech from Laloo Yadav, would possible reveal secrets about Yadav himself, given the general propensity for deals.
The judge in the Mumbai terror trials, would have inside information on the stuff ticking in Ajmal Kasab's brain. Bosses in companies would be surprised to know what their immediate juniors are thinking about them, while appearing to be their confidantes. Lalit Modi, BCCI and all the connected political folks would be totally exposed, and if someone could do mass analysis of public faces, they would find 90% disgust being the dominant emotion, the remaining 10% trust attributable solely to Sachin Tendulkar's place in the scheme of things...
Of course, since we are so good at defying the existing rules, and creating and finding loopholes, we will soon have folks in power, who talk like robots, not betraying any emotion, lest their secrets be found out. Say, two actors who can't stand each other putting on an act of great friendship, won't be able to fool anyone. All the fun will go out of watching the so called hitherto entertaining speeches in Parliament, with people calling each other the vilest of names with the straightest face.
On a personal level, I doubt if this technology will ever be installable. Folks meeting each other for the first time would have an interesting time analysing what the contraption says, vis-a-vis their own take. I wonder how it would feel to know that someone who is smiling so wonderfully at you is actually disgusted, and even angry with you.
And it wont be long before someone cracks this technology, and publishes details on what facial expressions to assume to mislead the contraption. I can see webpages dedicated to this, TV programs detailing the various technology versions, Microsoft coming up with OS's with this feature built in, and issuing patches after patches after some guy from Bulgaria hacks, and folks swearing by Linux saying, "this tells it like it is, no hacking possible" .
At the back of all this , will possibly be some entrepreneur related to someone in power, who gets the contract for the stuff, markets the contraptions installed across the country to sense these analyses, who will mint a fortune, and probably need no facial analysis as he goes guffawing 100%, on his way to the bank.
It seems this emotion recognition technology is being encouraged by companies marketing things, because they want to know what the consumers are thinking when they set their eyes on the merchandise etc.
And so , we humans, with a wonderful brain, amazingly designed, not yet replicable anywhere by man, will slowly become programable robots, in the effort to fool this emotion recognition technology.
The circle will be complete. Humans ---> Thinking machines ---->Unthinking humans.
Maybe 20 years later , they will design something to bring back behaviour with emotions.
I wonder if they will have any algorithm to detect "trust" , "love" , and "innocent laughter" on a face.....?
Thursday, June 17, 2010
"Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan" : roughly translatable as an "Education for Everyone" project. Shiksha in Hindi means education/educating. In my language , Marathi, Shiksha means "punishment" .
Sometimes I wonder which is true.
And so we go to the further chapters in the life of S. my household help....
She came yesterday, after a bout of fever that had her flat out for two days. Given that, she certainly looked cheerful and was smiling. Turns out that her older grandson had just started school !
She has two grandsons, and big dreams. The elder fellow is 4+. His parents, and S have been trying to get admission into a good school for him. There are several schools nearby, but with specific admission criteria. He doesn't fit into the Kendriya-Vidyalaya(Central Schools) criteria, another school only admits registered dependents of employees of a certain Institute. There are some private schools. One where people from all strata of society go, and another two that cater to those considered "upper class" .
S has been trying for his school admission since last year. She got the form late. So this year, the family pooled all their resources, gave up lots of other dreams, and took turns keeping their place in the admission queue , so they could pay a "donation" of Rs 15,000, and get admission for the child. They are now in for a monthly fee of 550 Rs, plus assorted uniforms, rain wear, books, stationery, etc.
School is in the mornings. And this little fellow SK, goes for tuitions (in junior kg) everyday from 5 pm to 7 pm ! That costs an additional Rs 200 p. m.
The only saving grace is that there are no transport costs, as the school is like within 10 minutes of walking distance, and his mother or the uncles walk him to school and back. When his little brother grows up, he gets to go to the same school with a sibling discount in the fee.
SK is a smart kid. Amazingly talkative, and observant. A year ago , he helped out as an actor, when someone was making a project assignment video on tobacco and chewing, and acted as the son of a father who frequented the paan shop for Gutka(=chewing tobacco), and took the son along every time. The idea was to show how the son picks up the bad habit, because he imitates his father, and thinks whatever he does is wonderful. SK acted as the little kid, and the project students rewarded him with a new fancy school bag, a ball and chocolates, which delighted him no end.
He now attends school. When all the junior KG kids cried in a crescendo the first day of school after the parents left, this fellow looked puzzled. Went home and told his grandma , " No one hit anyone, but they still started crying ! ..." ; he carries a tiffin box to school with chapati and sabji, and so far, has not yet demanded Maggi noodles, which seems to be the favourite of those who come in vehicles.
He comes back home and reports to his Mom and Grandmother on whatever he does at school that day. And then most of his time is spent in playing with his little brother and others, outside his 1.5 room small house, in an area across a wide gutter that runs down the slope. The little fellow listens to things and is a great observer.
Some learn to listen. He listens to learn.
S never tires of describing the grandsons escapades and remarks to me. SK and his little brother recently accompanied an aunt to visit another relative who lived down the road. That place had some interesting shops with toys, clothes, pencil-boxes, and assorted school type things. They were both describing things to folks back home, and the youngest one piped up saying how much fun it would have been , had they lived nearby there; everyday, a new pencil !
SK , gives a look, shakes his 4 year-old head, taps his younger brother, and says, " You cant stay there just like that. For that you need money, you know. "
And the entire family, is amazed and stunned at this 4 year old kid, who has understood needs and priorities so well, and thinks it is important to explain this to a younger sibling, who thinks coins are things you roll on the floor and play with, which you end up giving someone else.
And then I read this.
A Western country gives us funds meant solely for primary education, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, so that kids like SK and his parents do not have to pay an arm and a leg for him to go to primary school, and so that he gets the best facilities available in his school. The same country announces that it is now launching an investigation into reported widespread misuse of these funds, where officials have used them to feather their own nests, with material things. Much of the funds never reached who they were meant for.
And the ministry of HRD, that cannot decide simple things like grading systems in schools for months together , gives a statement the next day saying nothing has been misused. If the misuser and investigator agency even partially overlap, you get instant announcements.
Anybody believe that ?
There is no smoke without fire.
And so, S.'s family slogs and figures out how to educate the two youngest with their limited resources, possibly one kid on the way, and those in power go ballistic calculating the number of digits in the percent inflation, industrial growth rate, whether fashion designers are artists in the eyes of income-tax, IPL, whether convocation robes are a carryover from the British, whether or not Warren Andersen is a crook, and how the Ambani brothers are now talking.
I guess, Sarva Shisksha Abhiyan means never having to say sorry to kids like SK.
Monday, June 14, 2010
Things are simple when the communication is oral. It can be embellished with a variety of looks, changing decibel levels, and aided by colorful gestures. When its a question of public messaging, we have come a long way from town criers (current record for shouting is 100 metres), guys running across miles with messages whispered into someones ears, whistling in code , smoke signals, lighting bonfires on hilltops, sometimes even messages carved on pillars.
The problems started when papyrus entered the scene. The choice was between messengers moving with messages, or the message itself moving. The Persians perfected this (522-486 BC), even inventing the Aramaic language and a Phoenician alphabet, that could be written on Papyrus and was recognized everywhere. While the 2nd - 11th century AD, saw wide use of horses being ridden by messengers in relays, it was only after this that Egyptians pioneered the use of pigeons for sending messages, based on the fact that pigeons basically tended to return home from wherever they were. This technology was used, albeit discriminately, right till the middle of the 20th century, where folks like Rothschild in London, got insider information about the war situation via pigeons originating from Europe, and made fortunes in banking.
In my lifetime, written communication has mostly been through the Post Office. We had postcards, inland letters, envelopes, express delivery, telegrams and so on, till we entered the age of Couriers. Even that was fine, till the Net happened, and courier companies jumped on the Netwagon.
Like the missed-call-in-the-cellphone-age, we in India specialize in creative misuse of stuff. This, based on the fact, that comparatively less number of folks check the status on the Net personally, and that anything, possibly , goes.
I was recently supposed to receive a package as a prize, and the company kept me informed by email till it handed over the thing to a courier company, and gave me a tracking number in the evening.
Next day , I stayed in the whole day, nothing arrived, and I checked the status on the Net. It said "Party not at home, package returned to nodal office" . While this resulted in me making angry calls, and being shunted around through sections by the courier people, it turns out, that when the delivery person, for some reason of his own, cannot make a delivery , such a entry on the company system, ensures, no questions are asked by their bosses. While fighting with folks is not a pleasurable way to spend an already busy day, they sent the package the next day, and had to call to get directions, clearly exposing their lie of having come earlier.
Waiting for an important document sent by another courier, does nothing for your stress levels. With fancy homepages,these guys get even more creative with their lying. When nothing arrived after the mandatory wait of 3 days, the status message indicated "Address not clearly mentioned, not found".
This was not the first time we were receiving these documents. Unfortunately for them, the shipment details on the screen also showed an accurate address. But once again, it resulted in having to tell the company PRO that they were casting aspersions on an address that had existed successfully for the post-office, and bill senders for the last 20 years, and no one seemed to have a problem. Besides the post office was 200 steps away , and the courier fellow could have asked their help .
And so I still depend on the ye olde Post Office.
They have a wonderful thing called Airmail speed post, where you can send things abroad with tracking and guaranteed delivery in 4 days. It doesn't cost an arm and a leg compared to couriers, and they only request that you show them what is inside (for security reasons) before closing the package.
It so happened in the summer (Indian summer ends in June) , that I was urgently couriering through them, one kilogram of cayenne pepper/red chilly powder in packets to someone in the US.
I thought I was being very efficient arriving with my package, complete with protective waterproof, enevlopes, scissors, tape, string, waterproof pens, labels.
They asked me to open the outside large envelope. I routinely opened, and they routinely peered in, to touch and confirm that I was sending what I said I was. Ceiling fans were on full blast, and one of the larger packets must have developed a small hole, because the guy checking it went into a bunch of alarming sneezes from the pungent hot aroma .
Everybody kind of suddenly focused on me, and I focused my eyes on my purse, till I saw the guy at the counter smile, pass me the package and asked me to pack it up , with special attention to the presumed hole. There were clear Post Office rules on what you couldn't send , but chilly powder was not on the list. I did the needful paperwork, and was given a tracking number.
I kept tracking it, as it left Customs in India, entered the US in new York, entered and left US Customs uneventfully, and left on an intra country flight to its destination on the West coast, and was delivered, in all its red hot pungent glory.
I had half expected to see an update on the Postal tracking page saying "rejected and destroyed by US customs due to dangerous smell and potential for harm" or something similar. But the entire trip was uneventful , of course, beyond the local Mumbai Post Office.
These days, they sometimes just ask me what I am sending, and gingerly feel the package from outside. The lady at the counter understands the place of red chilly powder in cooking, and importance of the home-made variety. They completely understand why I end up sending packages of wedding clothes, tiny silver God figurines which are worshiped, various prayer books , and sometimes even some specially made dry chutneys.
They must have decided I am a safe person to transact business with....
Why, I even got invited to an Annual Maha Satyanarayan Puja of the Post Office employees, and even partook of the wonderful prasaad....
Jai ho !
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Most of things which I have learned in life, which have stayed with me, are things that I was kind of thrown into, as opposed to educated in.
Like doing webpages.
The peak period of my working life coincided with the arrival and establishment of the Internet. Starting at one time with a software called Lynx, I was then totally enthralled by the Internet Explorer (a sentiment I do not share today). A very strong wish to learn how web pages were made, had me bothering those who knew, and I actually studied source code of pages at one time, to understand what html tags did. Those were not the days of readymade html editors with strange names and I was typing more and clicking less, till I had <> coming out of my fingernails....
It so happened that age finally caught up with me ( not that I was leading very strongly in front), and in 2002, I tested hypothyroid. The body engine had slowed down. Blood tests confirmed that, and I was on medication.
Fortunately, Google by then was part of my life, and I ended up checking out everything that the doctor explained and more, and collected a huge amount of what I thought was useful information.
It goes without saying that the html-isation and hypothyroidism in my life kind of jelled, and I came up with a Thyroid webpage called Apnathyroid. Of course blogging was not yet invented, and the painstakingly created Thyroid webpages , with cluttered animations, highlighting, blinking, screaming letters, music, songs, and numerous graphics, was a supreme example of how a web page should not be. I include a link to that old page above, for educative purposes. Never design a page like that.
I retired from regular employment in 2004, discovered blogging in 2006, and this old webpage, lay dormant , somnolent and snoring on the servers. A few days ago, I happened to visit the page, and experienced what can only be called a riotous onslaught on all the senses. All the graphics, music, and unnecessary animations were still intact.
I then decided to recreate the page, more in keeping with my thinking, as a newly minted senior citizen - a bit quiet, sedate, without screaming colors and banners.
And so I now announce APNATHYROID , a blog I have created with the same information, and which I plan to update. APNA THYROID in my language means Our Thyroid.
I would like to add that it is a blog where one has avoided medicalese, unless it is simply explained. I am highly suspicious of those who spout jargon, and do not follow much of it myself.
Comments, brickbats, stones, veggies would be greatly appreciated.
Shoe throwing currently seems to be out of favour. I am relieved. Besides it is never in my size....
Edited to add :
My other interest is Aortic Aneurysms of the Abdominal type. It started when my late father was diagnosed in his eighties. Then I found out that people over 50 can also get it. So I started looking and learning.
I did a website on this too. If you can tolerate bright colors, Beatles songs, Abba songs, in the background, and animations, please see here.
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Turns out that initially when faced with stress , we have what is called a sympathetic nervous system, that kind of activates parts of the body by releasing certain hormones. Adrenalin secreted by the adrenal gland sitting on top of kidneys, and noradrenalin , secreted by nerve endings elsewhere. This causes all sorts of things to gear up to handle the stress, such as the pancreas which start making glucagon to cater to the increased glucose required by your muscles; or like the suppression of the reproductive hormones, estrogen/progesterone etc, because you don't want to complicate a stressful situation with surprise events; the growth related hormones, and the insulin are both kept under control and inhibited, as the body , single mindedly mobilizes to face the stress, ignoring future needs. The hypothalamus in the brain orders the heart to beat more strongly rushing blood around to the needed places like muscles, at the same time rationing the supply to places that it considers not so important then; arteries constrict so that when they open up the blood is delivered with more force, and a hormone called vasopressin, even keeps in balance the water content of the blood, so the blood can flow around in an optimum manner delivering glucose, oxygen and needed stuff in the best way possible.
The trouble is, if this keeps happening for a long time, again and again, the brain gets mislead into thinking that its a comfortable state for you to be in, , and the bottom line, as such, as far as your body goes, changes. It is like a middle class, rule obeying, hesitant person, who used to be a god fearing, simple type, who followed instructions, suddenly getting used to the good life or bad life (depends on who is looking) , say, in show business etc, and subsequently, you change, as some of the stress handling changes become yours for life.
Depression, anxiety states, obsessive-compulsive disorder, diabetes mellitus, some autoimmune diseases, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, reproductive problems, and suppression of the immune system, are some of the diseases arising from abusing the stress response.
From being the nice simple, quick stress handling system that did its work and got back to its normal day-to-day life, this now becomes like someone who has gone up so much in life., that simple things are forgotten, and you become more comfortable with rich diseases of a careless life .
Sometimes I think our government must have read Sapolsky's book.
Take any field, and we specialize in ignoring the basic stuff , never returning to the base, and mess around desperately with the complicated.
What can you say, about an education minister flying around signing MOU's with Ivy League Universities to bring in Foreign-Direct-Investment(FDI) as it is called, in Education in India ? What can you say about a department that is obsessed over entrance exams to colleges, and creation of more and more colleges , while primary education in the country continues to lie in doldrums? How many municipal schools in Mumbai have decent premises, with drinking water and decent toilets for the children ? Do the folks in state capitals who spend most of their time politicking even worry about infrastructure available to a teacher in a school in a remote village with no power ?
What can you say about a state government that gives more importance to free laptops for ministers (who think Windows is something for enjoying the breeze), and complicated compositions of disaster management committees, but doesn't bother about giving extra water pumps, larger road repair budgets, higher budgets and facilities for police and firemen, and thinks their work is done once they announce ex-gratia payments and compensations to those affected by the disasters, like say, Mumbai faces every year? Do they worry about monitoring and supervising the work assigned to the contractors, possibly at a great monetary loss to themselves at time ?
Even the Met department fails. (So what's new ?:-) ) Thanks to the satellite pictures, they excel at the high end, predicting cyclones and storms. They operate at such a macro level, that they recently predicted the Cyclone 'Phet', as scheduled to cause problems in Karachi , coastal Pakistan, after doing a show of its might in Gujarat in India. What actually happened is that Mumbai had its first wonderful monsoon rain, and parts of the Rajasthan Desert that never had rain for years suddenly had huge floods with loss of life and houses and livestock. They never predicted this.
But ask them for a rain prediction for tomorrow, and they start waffling about westerly disturbances. Two days ago , Mumbai got its first decent rain. Nobody asked, but they said this wasn't the monsoon, which would be arriving 48 hours later. Needless to say, we have been immediately carrying umbrellas everywhere, and have succeeded in protecting ourselves from the frequent rain, monsoon or not. The Met has reached the autoimmune stage, misguiding the people it is supposed to serve, where nobody believes in its predictions, and it exists, simply because across the years, nobody questioned its performance, while pushing additional resources to it, again and again.
I hate to say this, but even sports suffers. The government is obsessed with the Indian Premier League (Cricket), now that several folks have made money, and some who wanted to, probably didn't. So there are high end enquiries, machinations, statements, declarations, while District Sport Offices, throw their empty hands up, when questioned about , say, simple dorm facilities, kits and refreshments for school meets. The talk is all about politicisation of the Commonwealth Games 2010, which games to include, which to disallow, and whether the contractors will complete the stadiums. In the meanwhile, swimming pool floors at various public swimming pools in Mumbai, continue to have dangerous broken tiles, rusted railings, and faulty filtering plants, for lack of funds.
Our powers that be have reached the stage of autoimmune disease. They actually attack their own. And every citizen is considered guilty until proven innocent, in all aspects of living, whether is taxes, banks, voting, or anything. Those in power, are so drunk, they are, like antibodies, anti people.
Not surprisingly, one of the approved and proven ways of handling the stress response is through proper Yoga practice, something that is India's gift to the world, and practiced by millions across the world.
It needs sustained practice, thought and a dedicated attitude. Similar to thoughtful formulation and practice of national policies for the good of the ordinary man.
Something possible for each of us , individually.
But how do you convince our autoimmune, stressed, money obsessed powers that be ?
Sunday, June 06, 2010
These three things are heavily interrelated, closely connected, and taken together, they remind me of a lifestyle half a century ago, when we were, not, such a environmentally “pseudo developed” nation, either in thought, or civic habits.
We never did “Environmental Studies” in school, because we lived them. Water was drunk from traditional glasses made out of either steel, or copper. Plastics were not only unfashionable, but even basically unavailable. And what were available, occasionally in the form of containers, were innovatively reused. Trash and Garbage was so interwoven with life, it was never then a subject for having conferences on.
It is possible even today to follow some of the tenets we followed then. If we have the will.
Conservation and Recycling must start with our way of thinking. You do not “conserve” anything by subscribing to the use and throw philosophy, so avidly imported from the West.
I’ve seen staff in a small bank , on a green campus, looking forward to the midmorning tea break, as someone came around with plastic cups filled with masala tea. Really, the staff strength, did not decree this, and the bank could surely afford two dozen glasses or china cups, and someone to wash them. Better still, staff could rinse their own cups.
A local lake , getting silted, and weedy , dries up in the summer, and a project was initiated (by those living on its banks) to get together and clean out the weeds before the monsoons, on a daily Shramadan basis. While some dedicated types attempted this, there was more response to something where human chains stood lakeside, for miles together, holding plastic banners, lugging Bisleri, folks in their “protest” best, with fancy glares and outfits, 4-wheel drive gas guzzlers rushing the organizers around as they sacrificed a Sunday speaking to television folks.
A visit to any rural area, is an education in how you can organize environmentally decent mass celebrations. Leaf plates are used for meals , which are then collected , and the local cows have a field day partaking of them. No heaps of paper plates, plastic spoons overflowing from bins, waiting to clog up the city drains. These leaf plates are available even today, in places like the Reay Mandai (vegetable market) in Pune, and possibly at many places in Mumbai. In keeping with the times, there are even bowls made from these. Historically, Prasad from temples, was often given in such leaf containers.
Conservation and Recycling can also be part of your cooking. In the big excitement of precut veggies available in air conditioned supermarkets, we have forgotten that each part of the plant has a use.
Peels and scrapings of things like lauki, karela may be transformed into delicious and nutritious chatnis, by sautéing and mixing with roasted coconut, til, and jawas. Left over extra water from cooking veggies can be incorporated seamlessly into sambars and for making chapatti dough. Raw mango seeds , left over after using up the rest for pickles, may be used to make raw mango soup.
In today's high-rise- lifestyle, one often sees water flowing through pipes that come down from the top, whenever the cistern is full, or when terrace water is channeled down in the monsoons. How many times have we seen water wastefully flowing in the compound, while someone raises a hue and cry about shutting off the water supply somewhere ? Buildings even have pipes that collect balcony washing water and channel it down through incremental pipes. A little extra length of pipe, that leads into the garden area, would ensure that this water energizes the plants and enriches their soil, as opposed to flowing wastefully on concrete.
Shopping for food today results in a massive collection of low density plastic bags, which caused havoc in Mumbai in July 2005. A lot of us have switched over to cloth bags. And I would like to applaud something a friend of mine did regarding this. This lady had a large amount of polyester sarees she wanted to get rid of. She engaged an alteration tailor to cut these up and make shopping bags out of the lovely prints, with long handles and stuff. She presents these to her work colleagues and anyone who visits her , including fellows who come to sell things. They use up very little space when folded, can be carried in a bag or purse, wash and dry easily. The whole effort probably costs her less than the cost of one fancy saree, but her ability to help save the environment by the reuse and recycling of sarees is applaudable.
And lets not even talk about vehicles. From a childhood where I spent my entire high school and college years bicycling , to school, college, extra curricular activities and friends, we have now reached a stage in society, where people change cars every two years, because they must keep up with standards. Probably those of the manufacturers of the cars. And the proverbial Joneses. The bigger car, the better you are considered to be in the scheme of things. You have come up in the world. Slowly you get get sucked up into what I called the e-jungle, where you keep updating your phones, computers, music systems, toys, and contribute your share to the e-waste that is the next big environmental issue.
And this will continue, unless you discover something. Not a gadget in the real sense; there are too many of those.
We need to discover what may be called a “Sensible Me”.
Someone, who insists of turning off, replacing leaking taps in the house, who can resist installing AC’s , that run full blast through the summer, because of energy concerns, who doesn’t mind getting hands dirty in the mud, someone, who gets upset when plastic is thrown out of a running vehicle, goes up to the person, and tells him off.
Someone , who doesn’t care being unpopular….
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
We have no time to stand and stare....."
I wish the late W. H Davies had visited India. He would have never written this poem "Leisure" , irrespective of the age in which he would have visited India; not "his" age, but age as in "which century"......
Staring is a national pastime. It is democratic, and free, you can do it as long as you want, where you want, when you want, at whoever you want, and any verbal objection from anyone associated with a stare-e, is always countered by a question about your parentage and its connection to the ownership of the public place, where all this staring is happening.
About 35 years ago, when I lived in a University residence hall meant for families, the silence of a Sunday evening was suddenly shattered by a commotion and shouting, about someone /something on fire. There were a lot of folks running and rushing about, and turned out that a young wife had accidentally managed to overturn a lit kerosene stove across her synthetic sari. She had rushed out with her husband, shouting for help, and crying out. When we reached with burn ointments, ice and rugs to smother flames, and were trying to comfort and help the lady and her husband in trauma till the ambulance arrived, at a radius of about 12 feet from us, all around, were about 50 folks, from the adjoining floors, men and women, with horror stricken faces, staring, at the badly burnt woman, whispering, but not moving . The lady could see all their faces, she was still conscious then, and was pleading with us. I often wonder to this day what must have passed through her mind seeing the shocked faces.
While a traffic accident on badly planned roads makes a serious dent in the fortunes of both automobiles and humans, and some good Samaritan often turns up to help those in need of medical aid, I have never understood the concept of rushing and gathering around to stare at the injured , lying on the ground, beside bashed up cars. Mind you, the traffic doesn't stop. It kind of slows down in involuntary respect while passing by, and then carries on. We are like that, only.
Sometimes road rage happens. Mostly between a two wheeler and a 4 wheeler. What gets the starers particularly excited is the David and Goliath aspect. The 2 wheeler rider, advancing threateningly at the car, his bike lying on the ground after a particularly traumatic stoppage. Some guy in glares emerging from the car. Sometimes, there is collar holding after a initial wordy offensive duel. Occasionally, fisticuffs till the cops come. But within seconds, there is a huge crowd, gathered , from places you never knew, standing around, not willing to intervene, but whispering and commenting amongst themselves, staring from close quarters, at the human and metal surface dents. Things are of course additionally exciting if one of the drivers is a woman.
While it is entirely possible that our roads are designed keeping such staring crowds in mind, I have a growing suspicion that the modern architecture of some of our public spaces, clearly caters to this oft-ignored, uniquely Indian, staring community.
The Mumbai International Airport has been in the throes of massive construction. Still is. And things keep looking different every time I visit the arrivals area. This time, it has taken on the nature of a plaza. You emerge from the airport doors, with your bags, searching eyes, and a longing for airconditioning, into a huge square, bounded on three sides by railings. There is no other Meeting Point , as such, for travelers , where you go and wait, and there is no one announcing anything. You kind of hope, the person coming out sees you, and so a good place along the railing is a useful idea. This is it.
Consequent to the Indian habit of making arrivals and departures a celebrated family event, for which hordes arrive , sometimes in buses, these railings are chock a block with folks waiting for travelers to emerge, small children trying to entertain themselves trying to climb in and out between the horizontal bars, assorted officials walking around importantly, in the square, with id-cards around their necks. Along with such family folks, there is another breed of folks, from hotels, in suits (at the height of a 40 degree summer), carrying plaques, slung across the top horizontal railing, bearing names of folks they have come to meet and greet and pick up.
Several passengers were emerging , wondering about the heat, in Bermudas and tees, towering over the railings, staring at the plaques,and trying to read . Not finding their names, they could not decide where to go, and stood around, avidly watched by the audience lining the three sides of the plaza railings.
Some would place calls, smile, and continue to stand. Some kind of paced around with their wheely luggage. This one guy, stood right in the centre, smiling at everyone, watching the names on plaques every now and then, and even beamed with interest at the various passenger pilgrims returning from Haj, carrying quantities of Holy Water , who were being effusively greeted by delighted families.
Suddenly there was alert look, the smile widened, and the entire audience stared as he decisively moved towards a suited , booted plaque type bearing his name.
We almost clapped.
In the meanwhile, some more suited hotel types had actually intruded into my elbow space on the railing, by shoving part of their plaque so much into where I was standing, that someone may have mistaken me, despite the absence of a suit, as one of them.
I requested the guy to confine himself to his space and not intrude. The rexin/plastic of the plaque enhanced the heat , and the hard edges poked where I was standing.
"Ma'am, this place is reserved for us", a suited type , with a smirk.
" Please. This place is for everyone receiving their guests. And besides, you can't shove plaques under my elbow like this. It hurts. " Me.
" No No. You need to stand elsewhere. This is reserved for us .." The defiant suited type.
I adjust my decibel level a notch higher. (Always works).
"Says who ? Can you show me a notification anywhere around that supports what you say ? " My dormant Mumbai fighting spirit is itching.
""Aisa kuch nahi hota hai (=there isn't anything like a notification), but this is reserved for us" . The suited chap.
Some other suited types are listening. Gathering around him. Nodding. The herd mentality. Protecting one's own.
All of them staring at me.
My blood boils.
"Look, you either show me a rule/notice that supports what you say, or move on. There are hundreds of families here, waiting to receive folks, and we are the default option. Considerations of commerce may count elsewhere, not here. You want a special place, ask the authorities, and get one. In the meanwhile, move that plaque from under my elbow, unless you want me to shove it across the railing. " Me. Fed up.
The guy on my right, someone who has come to receive his parents returning from the Haj pilgrimage, nods, and mutters saying, these fellows never listen, and are very pushy. They even obtain access inside the plaza square, and accost travellers there.
I turn to the left. Mobilize to attack, as such. The plaque moves just before I prepare to push it off . The cool railing feels good in the searing midday sun. There is, of course , a decent modern architectural canopy above us, the Mumbai airport's recent concession to folks who up to now, braved a searing sun, and torrential rains.
I look up.
There is a whispering group of suited and booted plaque types, staring at me. They still inhabit the railing area to my left. They still block various family folks and children from standing there, claiming some non-existent rules. Its not like I was itching for a fight. A slight move by him to the left, would have helped. But here, folks get creative, and fib about nonexistent rules; a uniform intimidates people; and some people even mistake these guys for airport staff and do whatever they say.
My guest arrives about ten minutes later. We move off the aforementioned railing, and traipse off towards the luggage and parking.
Followed by a large number of suited and booted stares, breathing a sigh of relief. Along with, possibly, a few stares, by those, who thought this was a riveting morning event, Middle Class Senior Citizen Lady Vs Young Suited and Booted Execs from five star hotels.....
Ten minutes later, I am navigating through traffic on one of Mumbai's worst roads, when a young female voice from the seat behind pipes up.
"You know, Aai(=Ma) always gets into a fight , and then everyone stares......".