Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Parade, Vishram !

I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. (And I am delighted to note that not one of them is checking the cell phone..)

And hopefully this is not something done by a die hard Photoshop aficionado.

To see who is who in the richest queue above click here .

Could be the effect of the Republic Day Parade, but this actually  creates an explicable urge to say "Parade, Vishram !"

 I have been a queuer for years.   Standing in a queue ,  is not a natural thing to do  and is always an imposition, for the common folks like you and me , and we unite when faced with those who try to jump the queue based on  "connections",  physical pushing abilities, and their so called public persona.

I've been part of passport office queues that started at dawn and went around huge buildings, for a 10 am opening; complete with torrential rains, umbrellas dripping on neighbors, and cycle based chaiwallahs tinkling bells and making the rounds, bringing much needed succour to those who braved wars in suburban trains to get there instead of enjoying idli and coffee at home.

I've been part of visa queues that extended way down in multiple lines on pothole studded pavements in the poshest part of Mumbai.

I've been part of railway ticket queues prior to approaching summers, when there was almost planned ambiguity in which queue was for what, with some folks suddenly reaching windows in an unconstitutional manner , and some tickets suddenly being unavailable.

And I have been in queues in Ration offices, places where affidavits are done,  the Gas agencies,  not to mention, more recently, for the Aadhar card. I have known folks who employ other folks to stand in a queue on their behalf at unearthly hours, and then themselves land up after a decent sleep and  breakfast, and suddenly replace them, causing much teeth grinding amongst those who did all this , ie standing in lines hours before , themselves.

I have always wondered why one never saw , say,  Hrithik Roshan in a passport queue, or say, Priyanka Chopra shuffling from one foot to another in a Visa queue prior to an overseas trip.   Did  Mukesh Ambani sit with his eye against a big lens for his Aadhar card ?  Did  Sachin Tendulkar stand in line at the Gas Agency to link his several kitchen gas cylinders to his Aadhar card after filling a form ?     

And I have always wondered how the rich and famous do this.  It is all fine to have flunkies who clear the traffic and your immediate surroundings so you can favour the earth with your footfall,  but do they send proxy folks, when they get important things done ? Do the passport , visa and other offices, come home to them ?

And so it was with a sense of wonder that I noticed  the Who's Who of Indian Industry standing in line at what I believe , was Rashtrapati Bhavan. Waiting to get in to meet, presumably,  the most powerful man in the world today. 

Brought to mind images of school lines, where you stood in line and were not allowed to converse with each other.  Brought to mind scenarios from school drills, where you held out at arms length and spaced yourself away from the next person.  No special lines for girls. Some in the photo even looked like they were punished by the teacher. And it looked like a monitor type stood at the head of the line, keeping others in check ?  Perhaps a separate line for those disobeying the rules for uniforms ?

And I wondered how things would be if the next time you travelled by the Mumbai local, you looked up to see , say, Mukesh A. , saying "Zara sarkun ghyaa..."   asking you to shift so he could occupy the undefined fourths seat in a crowded second class compartment,   or Anil A, running blithely, and taking a running jump on to the foot board of a running Titwala local, as assorted guys , leaning out, with lunch tiffins, help him in, making space where none exists.  Or perhaps the queens of industry, as they watch the train entrepreneurs in action, selling everyday life in the ladies second class,  as someone shoves past them,  hair blowing in the wind, saying, "Ghatkopar utarne ka nahi to abhi se kyun yahan khadi hai ?"
I wondered what would happen if while trudging up n staircases after an electric outage that stalled elevator service, you ran across the chairman of a big group huffing and puffing alongside you , and what you would say to him,after you got your breath back.   And the next time you rushed into a bus creaking under an overload, would you stand with your mouth agape when you noticed the conductor demand "Chutta dya"  from what can only be the captain of the banking industry ...

Forty years ago, I worked for a company that even today is in the vanguard of the IT industry.  High rises at Nariman Point were just being built and we worked in one of the most prominent ones. With tons of offices, four fancy lifts, and people who actually stood in line to get in, as opposed to rushing in a la Mumbai locals.

Returning from a roadside lunch, the door of the lift was about to close, when an old benevolent looking gentleman , with a prominent nose, a smile on his face and a spring in his step, walked in , without any flunkies and folks hovering solicitously around him. He checked to see if the floor button where he needed to get off was pressed, and simply stood like anyone of us. One of our senior colleagues recognized him and wished him. When we got off at our floor, he peered out and asked , "Is it one of our companies ?"  and smilingly got off with us when all of us excitedly responded in the affirmative. 

He then paid a courtesy call on our head, causing much excitement in the office.

This was JRD Tata, then Chairman of Tata's, on a routine visit to one of his several business and corporate interests.  No hangers on, no uniformed flunkies, just a very dignified personage, asking for no special considerations, and behaving like he was like everyone else.  Right from when he was driven in, in a white ambassador, and he climbed up the steps to the foyer, carrying his own attache case , and into the lift.  The sudden visit to our office over , he got back into the elevator to continue to his destination in the building.  

They don't make them like that anymore.

Perhaps, there are some.

But they keep getting overshadowed by those whose place is defined by an alphabet with a plus sign , where their importance to the nation and security matters .

Just saying......

Monday, January 19, 2015

Face Values....

Long before patents, attorneys, inter country fights about neem  and turmeric, and much before  I  could even spell Ayurveda,  Neem was known to me.

It was about the leaves found in our hot bath water, particularly after an entire set of us cousins in the family house got chickenpox.

It was about  noticing dried leaves in the packets of rice that were packed after paddy was dehusked by hand-pounding in our garage . My folks ate only hand pound (threshed in a set up in the garage ) unpolished rice, untouched by machine,  and dried neem leaves were interspersed into each packet to keep insects at bay. And no one really bothered about a stray leaf that made its way into a cooked rice occasionally.

It was about mornings, teeth brushing, and folks in the family chewing on a twig of the Neem tree,  watching us kids do our sophisticated toothbrush and toothpaste act. I tried it once , didn't like it at all,  but developed great respect for those who did the chewing.

It was also about the Indian New Year, and the traditional eating of fresh neem leaves with jaggery. Jaggery was welcome, and it was not easy to  avoid the leaves under the watchful parental eyes. Today, times have changed, and the watchful eyes belong to me.  

And then there were the typical teenage days . These were before the lotion and moisturizer era, and ambehaldi and besan scrubs at bath times,  were the order of the day, with fresh malai doing the honors in winters.   Folks swearing by the results of applying neem leaves paste on skin eruptions, and using special neem oils. A few folks had what  was termed an Acne problem by older folks, and elicited a "Eww..." from those seeing it at close quarters, and mothers religiously rustled up neem and turmeric pastes and stuff for daily use by these folks.

When I  had my own dwelling, I planted a neem sapling outside my kitchen window, and it grew fast and tall just like a gangly teenager , where nature might schedule lateral expansion to a later date. To my immense regret, someone , convinced that it was blocking their breeze, had it cut down, and the stump treated to die, when i was away for a longish period.  Sign of the times ?

Since then I have often thought about Neem, our society, the eruptions that happen therein, why they happen, and how there need to be Neem-like personages or Neemlike attitudes so that life might improve .  As an anti bacterial, anti fungal, a pesticide, and even a mosquito repellent,  it defines the qualities we look for, to improve those causing violent eruptions in the society in which we live, and the problem today has been that trees themselves, like the one I planted ,  are being killed.  

Earlier societies had a pace that encouraged holistic  living.  Diets in consonance with seasons and soils. Efforts from first principles, as opposed to quick and fast shortcuts. A respect for what useful knowledge came down to us from years of successful application.

What was , in my childhood referred to as  आजिबाईचा  बटवा or Grandmother's Medicinal Pouch,  is being touted as a new thing, What is missing is the native knowledge regarding native plants, and simple methods of combining things that increase the bioavailability  of these things in our bodies.

So we make do with what we have. 

The good thing is that today, Neem products, scientifically prepared, are available in many forms, such as oil, leaf extracts, soaps, scrubs, etc.  Some companies, have woken up  and incorporated these into creams and lotions that one may use on one's skin, in a well defined manner.  Garnier Fructis folks have , in a unique Indo Australian combination, come up with a cream face wash with extracts of Neem and Tea Tree Oil, the last being a native Australian medicine.  It is called Garnier Pure Active Neem.  There are suggested application frequencies,  projected success rates, and hopefully it all works to display some  joy on your face....

A life where a careful crushing and hand grinding of Neem leaves on a clean chutney stone or mortar and pestle, has now regressed into a quick squeeze of something from a tube on to a face. It s a case of having the knowledge and not having the time.

Perhaps we are coming full circle. Perhaps there is something to the type of cures we took for granted.

Like rushing with an onion to stick it under some one's nose, when a nosebleed happened;  or holding a much walked chappal/shoe  under some one's nose to teach the vagus nerve a lesson it never forgets, when someone faints. 

Or wrapping some ajwain seeds tied in a muslin cloth and lightly roasting on a griddle to make someone inhale the fragrance, a great way to clear blocked noses....

And lets simply not mention a terrible looking thing called poultice that was about a bunch of kitchen foods stirred in black cast iron kadhais and applied on injuries which were then wrapped in gauze, which always leaked some of it, causing immense embarrassment in school.

Perhaps, Mr Garnier and Mr Fructis  will come up with Onion Sprays

Perhaps they will come up with nosestrips with Dirty-Chappal fragrance.

Yes. And what about poultice in a tube that hardens on application ? Ykes. 

 Perhaps, the height of it all will be microwaveable pouches with ajwain seeds that you heat and hold to your nose in a fancy pouch.

I am not amused.


Should this eventually happen, just remember that you first heard about it here....

(Submitted as an entry to the Indiblogger-Garnier Pure Active Neem Contest.)

Friday, January 09, 2015

In solidarity with the cows.....

(This  appeared in the Mid-Day paper of Jan 9, 2015.  Aarey Colony is an erstwhile  green area   demarcated  for dairy activities for many decades. Successive Mumbai governments have arranged back door entries of the concrete lobby, and even leased lands to film companies for studios, with toll roads through the area always crowded with Mumbai's horrendous traffic. )

I live in an area  which was earlier the natural abode of wild cattle, monkeys, snakes, crocodiles and the like. And yes, even leopards.

I don't think nature has reservation laws. There is a space for everyone to lead their lives, sometimes sensibly and sometimes not so.

All this changed, when the powers that be decreed that the area be demarcated for a residential technical Institution of higher learning for the benefit of the youth of the country.   Massive constructions, classrooms, administrative buildings, hostels, residential quarters for staff, recreational facilities and schools happened,  and as it happens in all developmental activities, those deemed not to have a say, or those whose rights over the space were ignored, were the most affected.

In my close to forty years of staying here, I have been witness to , and sometimes even a participant in,  so may scenes.

A massive crowd of at lest 50 cattle, 20 years ago, in the days before halogen lamps,  with a clearly defined leader cow, sitting as if in a dharna , completely blocking the main road after you entered the campus, through its then imposing Main Gate.  A visiting young niece from Delhi, calling it Indira Gandhi's meeting. Cars honking and approaching close. Some last minute rising by diffident cows. Some defiant chewing of the cud, and smirking by powerful heavy lidded  bovines, dark with intent in the evening gloom.

A mother driving a two wheeler with her son sitting back to back on the pillion seat, taking him to the campus school.  A cow with her calves at a corner getting suddenly agitated by the sound of changing gears, as the two wheeler turned, and mobilizing for a revengeful  gallop. The terrified screaming pillion kid, and the wide eyed looks of parents near the school as they notice the drama, of the unaware mother, driving and being chased by a galloping cow with horns pointing. The kid jumping off and being whisked away by helpful parents, as the mother, zips off accelerating away at a turn , grateful for a better turning ratio than the cow. And the cow slowly giving up, somewhere realizing that mothers with kids do not threaten mothers with kids.

 Then there was  a colleague, newly married, and settling back into his newly granted accommodation on campus  as he returned with his pregnant wife after a doctor's visit. The monsoons were in full force, his residence was in an area , which was yet to have tarred roads, and there was a lot of mud and slush at the entrance .  A cow,   or could have been a buffalo, resplendent in the mud,  kind of joyfully messing in the muck, looks up at him on the two wheeler, and slowly gets up, and starts chasing him around in spurts. He , torn between avoiding the animals horns, and stopping to allow his wife to disembark, in a tense 10 minute drama, as his wife jumps off in a dramatic dash towards the building steps,  luckily safely makes it, and he continues his battle, dodging the single minded animal , and trying to accelerate out of the slush and out of the way  on to the main road.

The campus human population is now in tens of thousands, but that has not deterred some animals from returning to investigate.

 In the fairly recent past, some kids returning home during a school lunch break, couldn't reach their residences in a fairly high density central area. Why ? Because , sometime mid morning, a leopard had wandered on to the second floor landing of the building  and was sitting there. Folks inside could not come out, and nobody dared climb the stairs.  Clearly, the leopard was unaware of school timings, office hours, the fact that , unlike most folks in Mumbai, everyone returned home for lunch  here, and had probably managed to saunter in during a mid morning traffic lull. The drama went on for hours, with the kids enjoying an unusual holiday , parents  worried,  crowds collecting outside to watch the efforts of the authorities at trying to sedate and capture the leopard for subsequent release in the forest land adjoining us.

Yes, development , as we see it happening, is difficult for the animals  to understand.

Monkeys, crocodiles, dogs, all rue the lack of drinking water sources, as the lakes get polluted, and concrete replaces grasslands.  Monkeys are now trained in climbing high rises, and leaping from old trees, to maraud dining rooms through windows, and have evolved into beings who differentiate between Alphonso and other mangoes and attack things selectively. And it is not unusual to see some animals loitering outside classrooms during lectures of the engineering kind. 

In the last week, I have been witness to a huge cow with a hurt hoof, standing quietly outside the Main Gate , trying to make sense of the heavy traffic, noise, lights, and restless pedestrians who would suddenly cross in droves, dodging random traffic.  She watched for at least two signal changes. Then she decided to amble across, dragging her foot, eyes in front, head down, sneezing intermittently.

Traffic lights turned amber, then green, folks accelerated, vehicles growled, but the traffic , waited , while she made her way across, a seven road intersection , ambling, without any special help from law and order authorities.

And then I remember the visit , to us (to our campus) , last year, of a top personality of one our most developed countries.  Several days prior to the arrival, reconnaissance , sanitisation, suggestions of altered vehicular arrangements; local law authorities meekly agreeing to drastic security limitations imposed by the developed country's security set up, special passes given to those working , so many for so many decades, teaching so many ,  and then the passes blithely not honored, as roads were emptied, and employees, and school children returning during lunch break were held back behind rope barriers  and rude shouts, in anticipation of the motorcade of the developed country person, likely to pass. 

( I have been a resident here when 2 Presidents , and two PM's  visited here , across the years, to address convocations, and do not remember such security. )

Yes. The aforementioned cow was barred from her own land. 

And this person, not of this country, dictated our movements .  In our own land.

I kind of know how the cows,leopards et al, felt.........