Sunday, October 01, 2017

Sleep. Dream. Wonder. Repeat.

They say you are never too old to dream.  And while one continues to dream, of course completely ignoring the fact most of the dreams never get realized or get delayed , the problem happens when you get recurring dreams at my age. Which is almost 68.

At the outset let me clarify, that while P V. Sindhu and Saina Nehwal have nothing to fear from me, I was a decent badminton player in my younger days when I represented my school and college,  and even participated and won in the men's doubles final (there were no womens events, so partnered my husband )  and won, at the Institute where I went to live after marriage.

So I was a bit surprised when I had a dream where I was on a badminton court, and was trying to serve. For some unknown reason (which remains a puzzle to this day) , whenever I tried to serve, the racquet would completely miss the shuttlecock, and the latter would fall to the ground.  I would continue trying, to the disgust of the person on the other side (the dream didn't specify who it was) . By and by, I would get traumatised, worried and leave the court in a state of worry.

The interesting thing was that this dream repeated itself several times.  You might think that I would finally serve, with all those trials, but , NO.  The racquet and the shuttlecock never met. Then one day the dream extended to me returning a serve . Everything below the waist, never connected.  Anything that was tossed above, I ended up hitting in a sort of feeble way ; something very upsetting to someone was earlier very good with  forehand and backhand tosses and returns.

I am just wondering what these repetitive badminton dreams mean. I mean why not a sport where I might be a beginner , like tennis or squash, or kho kho or kabaddi or whatever.

Another recurring dream I have had has nothing  to do with sport. 

You see my mother passed away 17 years ago, in a rather sudden fashion.And I was with her in her last moments.  One has come to terms with the loss of parents by now and learned to live without their presence,  except possibly, in spirit, during  important life events.

I keep having this dream, where I am expecting lots of folks to come by for some function, and am trying to figure out the logistics. I decide that my folks would be using the bedroom opposite .  I then wake up from the dream,  don't see my Mom,   see my daughter go into that room to fetch something, and wonder what she is doing there.   It takes a while to realize that my mother is not going to come and use that room when she stays with me.  End of dream.  

But, this dream has re-occurred many many times. 

I have failed to understand the significance of these two dreams, which have occurred many times.

I wonder if these are snatches of some old memories stored somewhere in my brain.  I wonder if something accesses these memories now when I sleep, and wonder what that "something" is.

I have also heard , and seen it happen (in my fathers's case and an aunt-in-law's case), that folks start remembering old childhood events and people, when  a life change is imminent.

I have an academic interest in all this as I have great respect for the way the brain functions, and the fact that each brain is unique.

Normally, one doesn't take dreams seriously.  Most of them are fun dreams, and some are even impossible.

But I wonder why I get the above dreams repeatedly.

And am seriously looking for answers . Experts ? 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Outside, Inside.....Cattle memories ....

My friend Alka Gurha  who blogs at this wonderful place  Freebird    recently did a great post  titled  Joy of Flying  which was all about short airplane trips, fluids, the desperate urge to discharge ,  and interactions with fellow passengers and the flight personnel.   And remembering Shashi Tharoor for his observation from his lofty perch, about the Cattle Class .

It brought back some amazing memories . 

Alka's were  about waiting outside the loo.

Mine are about the insides.

About 37 years ago , travelling to New Delhi from Bombay  (as it was then) , it was a popular thing to travel by Rajdhani AC chair car.  We had seats near the door , with extra legroom, and were traveling with a 3 year old son, K.   If you leave aside the AC, it was a Cattle Class journey, in the style defined by Mr Shashi Tharoor , who was then, I presume,  with the UN , and possibly not yet acquainted with the cattle.

At first we were happy that we were close to the loos, just outside the compartment door, given the last minute expressions of  wanting to go to the loo , that the child was fond of.    Then after several episodes of the child exploring the door of the compartment , and getting his fingers caught in an automatically  closing door ,   and letting off a frightening yell, thanks to folks wandering in and out in their quest for a loo,  his fascination with the door ended .

The time came to visit the loo.   People would look at a child  shuffling his feet, looking at me in desperation , and let him go in .  Our folks are nice that way. The child needed me to be in there with him.

We entered the loo, and the child positioned himself .  Holding on to me for support , as the train kind of lurched this way and that with some clanging noises, which he had not experienced inside the closed compartment.   Then he looked down and all hell broke loose. Right down the hole, he could see the rails and ground, moving fast , accompanied by the aforementioned sounds.   He got up, and refused to do what he came for. First it was fearful eyes, then crying, and then a desperate attempt to come out of the loo, saying he wouldn't go in, because he would fall into the hole.

I tried to calm him, explain , showing so many people wanting to go, and no one was worried and so on, but he simply would not budge. One uncle went in, and we watched with great wonder as he came out in one piece and smiling. An aunty went in, a young teenager went in, and everyone came out unhurt. He watched this and ventured in once again.  Once again we went through the whole naatak.   This happened several times, with various folks assuring him, while some kept indicating they had reached the end of their patience. We even tried the western style (which i personally do not like). But the view from there too included fast moving rails, ground and clanging rhythmic sounds.

Finally, biology kind of won, and the needful happened as he sat there clutching me, with his eyes shut.

I was just glad that we reached Delhi by 8 am.  It was not a nice thing to look forward to another day of fast moving rails and noises and a terrified child.

This child flew an international flight 2 years later , and the first thing he did was look down through the commode.  He didn't see rails, ground, or for that matter clouds, birds and sky.   This time he went in alone and managed to get stuck because he forgot how to open the folding door from inside.  You can imagine the cattle class folks desperately waiting for him to emerge, which he did after some airline staff intervention. They didnt think it was unusual.  I think they are trained to do this.

But yes. He always needed a window seat, and he always wanted to go to the loo, when the lunch trays were served, or when the aisle was blocked by the trolley.

I think the cattle class has improved. Today, folks waiting outside the loo, on international flights, do the "pehle app" stuff,  when they see kids, and some folks even do bending and losening relaxing  exercises etc while waiting for their turn, hoping that their systems will understand.

The aforementioned child is now himself a member of the Cattle Class  , and possibly doesnt remember the loo stories.  I dearly wish they change the design of the loos in our trains.

I dont care how fast the train moves.  And I shudder to think of the effect of bullet trains as a child of today looks down the loo .

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Day of the Children...

I belong to the generation that  was very much around when November 14, Children's Day was initiated. We were very much aware of the birthday of  Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, I had personally met him (a subject for a separate post :-)  ) ,  and in those days, we were much in awe of folks in high places , and rarely cynical à la today.

Children's Day was celebrated in our schools and in the city. There were no Malls then , and so the organized celebrations were very organic in nature and mostly in schools.

Today,  everyone in the family is an adult, and as such , one doesn't participate much in anything "children" , unless one is invited as a judge, which is a lot of fun.

And so it is with a great sense of learning that I relate this Children's Day episode.

We have recently moved from our Institutional premises ,  having retired after 43 years, to a much smaller flat nearby. In the interests of maximizing carpet area, the place has no balconies , but plenty of windows and is very airy.  There is a certain location of a particular window, which seems to have been created as an afterthought by the builder as it intersects with a larger window of an adjoining flat , orthogonal to ours.   As a result , the location is very well protected.

I have been potting various plants around the house, and recently added an insulin plant given by a friend, to the already thriving rose and mogra plants in that window.

Soon after that , a pigeon,  which must have been clearly diabetic, decided to settle down amidst the soil of the insulin plant. It also decided to chew away and separate a flowery structure that was blooming and producing roots on one side.

I was extremely upset, and there was an ongoing battle with the pigeon ,  which I subsequently lost, but I managed to extricate the insulin plant from that pot , and re-pot it elsewhere in a different window. 

Very clearly , the pigeon, was "expecting",  eggs were seen a few days later, and the pigeon would sit over them for days on end, in a state of what might be called "wings edema";  it would look hugely puffed up, enhanced in size, and sat occupying almost the entire surface area of the pot. No amount of shooing, making noises,   waving the newspaper, flinging water etc had any effect . She would deflect the water with the skill of a Sachin, swiping a tough ball to the ropes. She would duck, shake, move, blink, but she refused to vacate.

The family , very sympathetic to the diabetic pigeon and its mothering activities, decided to let her be, and whenever we checked , she would be sitting in edemic glory over the eggs .

Children's Day arrived with a crow.  This was discovered by the non stop cawing emanating from that window sill.  The crow would be sitting , like,  two feet away on the window grill,  cawing away at the mother pigeon, and she continue to hold fort, protecting the eggs .  Very clearly, he hankered after the eggs. And very much more  clearly, she wasn't going to give him a chance.

As the only person at home while the family goes out daily about their chores outside and at work, it has fallen upon me to interfere in the crow pigeon war.  The crow's beak, thrusting through the grill looks ominous. The crow can easily squeeze through, but is aware of space limitations and is probably avoiding bloody fights. I admire the other pigeon, who remains there , come what may, sitting defiantly over her eggs.

There are future children to be protected from the avaricious crows.

I decide to side with the mother pigeon.  I fold newspapers and wave them at the crow, who ducks a few times as if he is a batsman facing my bouncers.  A few bouncers later , he flies off , and continues to caw from a distance.

I am amazed at it all.  The unusual location of the window. How no pigeon ever bothered , till I placed the Insulin plant there. The tenacity of the mother pigeon protecting her yet-to-be-born.  Perhaps a bite of the insulin plant stem, reinitialized her body energy, needed for producing an offspring. The ability of the crow to spot this random window in a hugely spaced out set of buildings. The threatening overtures by the crow towards the pigeon.

And the defiant attitude of the mother pigeon,  as she sits protectively over the eggs,  in a extra puffed plumage which appears to breathe on its own.

Unlike what happens in a biped human world, she doesn't care whether her offspring is male or female. Gender discriminatory tactics haven't yet made it into the pigeon world. Yes, gundagiri is there.  Crows and possibly other birds, trying to intimidate her and making efforts to snatch the eggs.

And I am extra  angry shooing off the crow, whenever I hear him doing his threatening caw-caw.

I decide to side with her.

It is Children's Day.   The as-yet-unborn pigeon offspring deserve a chance at life.  I let her be, but am extra alert about the crows. 

After all, no child should be hurt, and every child , male of female, must have a chance at enjoying a decent, fruitful, flying life.        


Saturday, September 24, 2016

A "shocking" morning.......

I never had much to do with nerves, so to speak. Idiomatically or literally speaking.

I cannot recall anyone shaking their head in anger and saying,  "My God, she has the nerve ...."  or anything like that. Being nervous and showing it was not usually an option, and the thing to do was to always get on with what one was doing and look ahead.

So why suddenly this conversation about nerves ?  Because someone decided my nerves were possibly misbehaving, and recommended tests. 

Given that all kinds of medical diagnostic procedures were introduced during my adult life, I have had an interesting time doing things like ultrasonography, mammography,  smear tests, and MRI's. And later blogged about it. Like the MRI's.

Technologies have since gone through versions .  While the technology is impressive  in instrumentation, size and capability,  one has things to say about preparations for the same.  I mean , ultrasound science shows you pictures of your internal tissues by moving a probe over your body, but hasnt been able to find an alternative to all that drinking of water, till you are desperate to go to the loo, and the receptionist telling you to hold on because another patient was inside.  Or having to remove your earrings, bangles and mangalsutra  for an MRI, wear a hospital gown , and lie down on a plank that slowly slides you into a dark sphere which rattles. No one else in the room , and chaps look at you through a glass pane, and click things on a screen.  And whats more, no one can accompany you  and sit alongside somewhere on a chair.  Some tests are downright embarassing in the postures you have to be in, but you see other folks being subjected to the same , and just join the masses .

A bad back problem, a ankle swelling and a burning feet problem, (the burning akin to standing in a kilo of ground green chillies for one hour), had me losing sleep and peace, and I saw a neurologist . After some physical movement examinations,  a lot of diagrams  consequent to my asking questions, I was advised two tests NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity) and SSEP (Somato Sensory Evoked Potential) .   Fancy names. Very impressed, and I  Googled.

Then I booked an appointment and went in.

Turns out, that these are tests to find out nerve damage , and what kind of damage .  The nerves contributing to my feet burning originated in the spine. Old age does things to your vertebral column ,  and these tests are particularly useful to figure out nerves that may be pinched somewhere, or nerves that may be damaged , say internally . 

 Went to a big hospital in the suburbs where both recommended tests were done . Surprisingly,  while the NCV test is common , not many hospitals will do the SSEP test.

Thankfully , there was no change of clothes into hospital gowns, no drinking water and stuff like that. You lay down on a raised bed,  and someone then proceeds to stick electrodes at places on your scalp, hands , feet, behind your neck, and so on.  You are not supposed to have applied lotions, oils etc that day , and even then they have some conduction fluid thing which they apply after cleaning your scalp areas and rubbing it strongly before sticking the electrode.

After many years,  a rubbing of various areas of the scalp really brought back old memories.  I actually felt like falling asleep. But didnt.

Then the fun part began.  There is a thing like an electrical  two pin plug which they touch to predecided points on your body. The fun part is there is a current running in it and you get shocks.

 How your body responds tells them something about the nerve and how well and fast it transmits sensations  which are detected by surrounding electrodes at a known distance.Your are not supposed to move . Initially the shocks are small, and they gradually increase in amplitude.  There are occasional involuntary cries of "Aai Ga", and the young lady tells me to take a long deep breath , and exhale quickly. I see through it and ask her if all that deep breathing has anything to do with the shocks , and she smiles and says no.  They tell it to people so it distracts them from the shocks.  I tell her to keep the shocks going and ignore my cries . I need to get over with it.

This stuff is repeated for each upper and lower limb, with my lower limbs coming up with some creative shock sensations, thanks to the swellings. A break is announced before the ssep procedure is begun, as an paralytic emergency patient is scheduled for a quick test . I wait outside and try to investigate things on Google on my phone.

I am then called inside for the SSEP procedure .   This is basically designed to see how well the brain and spinal cord can react to messages to and from the various body parts. The speed with which nerves transmit the sensory messages, across known distances.  Brain to tips of the upper limbs, and likewise for lower limbs. So there are electrodes attached to your crown, again with the nice rubbing , and sticking.  A new electrode to your back at your waist, and then lots attached to your ankles. This test doesnt give shocks, but more of a buzz, like a big mosquito bite. Once again they apply voltages/currents, and for some reason the swelling in my ankles seems to behave like an insulation. Time an again i get no sensation from their electric touch, and they keep moving the probe in a certain area, till I overreact, when a slight electric  zing is felt. The test proceeds. I dont sense things going up and down my back, but they see stuff on the screen , and make knowledgeable comments to each other. Two hours later , I am through.

I am simply impressed by the two young girls, who handle these complicated tests, with varied patients. In between they interact with the doctors, as well as the administration/billing people, all this while answering  my questions, They also have excellent people skills, dealing with frightened types, older people who cant hear or language-disabled types.

I realize that while the body has all these glorious systems ticking away inside, it is the brainy high command up there that is kept informed by the nerves about the status of all.  Something doesnt respond to an impulse, something overreacts in pain, something works intermittently. Their are local responses, spinal responses and high command responses. Some nerves, being under an autonomous spinal control, go haywire , and it is sometime before the high command brain figures it out.

Sometimes the nerve itself has gone bad, sometimes the path it follows is in trouble.

And it occurs to me that this is so much like  whats going on in our country., Lots of people, locally controlled, going out of control, making random statements, accusing others, performing faulty actions. By the time people at the top find out, it's too late.

Medicine has all these tests for nerves . I wonder if we need such tests in society.  Backed by science. So we can take action if the person is at fault, and guide him if he is on the wrong path. The tests also tell you if this is a "gone " case, not likely to recover, and likely to lead to some serious affliction. Even then there are ways of making things tolerable.

As for me, I am still waiting to find out my nerve health, and if they have learned any lessons from the shocks they were subjected too .  The report is to arrive in a day.

Just think .Like the country,  sixty plus (and more) - decades of tolerating me, right from birth. I wonder what the nerves will have to say. In society, someone can always get up and give a speech and run someone down with choice epithets.

I think my nerves have more class ...   :-)

Hopefully, it will not be another "shock".......

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Loo Architecture as if people mattered.....

Many years ago, in my working days at an Institute of National Importance,  there was a flurry of new constructions, and set ups, after years and years of making do with existing stuff.  Alumni remembered the Alma Mater, donated, the government too gave decent budget allocations, and our department got a new building , designed by a prize winning architect, who was featured on the cover of a professional journal .  

The most prominent feature of the new building was the open spaces inside , the great heights of ceilings, some kind of wide uncovered iron beams across classrooms way up,  a few labs without a single window , and a central staircase approachable from 2 sides (which made it interesting to chase people) , and the very roomy loos .

It needs to be understood that folks came to work from the far off suburbs by bus and train, be it  rain or shine, and often got completely drenched , quite normal for the Mumbai monsoon.  It helped to have a loo where there was a dry area for folks to change into dry  sarees and other outfits. .

A few months down the line, it became clear that the western style toilets were not exactly popular with the ladies, and since there was a provision for more than one toilet,  there was a move to petition the authorities to convert one to an Indian style toilet.

Such a simple request. But a letter was written, which went with all the signatures through the Head , to the Institute Estate Office that oversaw construction. Mind you, no one thought it necessary to consult the actual users of the building when the designs were being prepared and specifications of fixtures etc were being finalized. In something that always happens , things are approved at rarefied levels without involving the actual users and inviting their input.

One fine day, a committee of folks from the estate office, came by to inspect, various papers in hand.  Some of the ladies were called and listened to. Then nothing happened over a period of time.  Suddenly one day, some guys turned up and the loo was inaccessible to the ladies for a month or more, while all kinds of banging, scraping, hammering , drilling went on , incidentally , right next to a lab.

One fine day, the ladies got a loo of their choice.

I have never understood the concept where designing with western sensibilities is considered a step up in the world. I mean we were not a multinational. constantly entertaining and working with folks across the world,  but a simple request had to go through a Head, had examining committees, comments in writing by people  in authority, and so on, before the first demolition could happen.

From buying a system worth lakhs and crores, to a lowly bathroom modification, there were committees. No distinction between professional needs and personal needs.

Years before this , I worked for what was then the leading IT company in India. It is the same today too. Situated in the then iconic high rise Air India building , all the floors had identical patterns where office space and toilets were concerned, the latter consisting of an anteroom , and the actual toilet complex.

The place was centrally air conditioned, and one fine day , on entering the loo, one saw a pair of feet high up on a bunch of AC pipes that ran close to the ceiling and through it. The building was possibly getting AC maintenance done , but this was unacceptable. You couldn't have folks walking around at a height on pipes, in a ladies loo.  When our requests were ignored , we wrote to the then GM of our company, who later on was to become one of the most respected people in IT and was once called the Bhishma Maharshi Pitamaha of IT.

An hour after receiving the letter , he himself came with two HR people  to check out the situation, invited us to tell our problems, and a letter was sent off to the building management, protesting the whole thing, and asking them for better schedules and procedures of maintenance.  The next day onwards, people stopped walking on the pipes high up, and privacy was restored.

Perhaps , it was something that organization inculcated and learned from its founders. There are things where a solution is obvious, and there are situations which require deliberations .

Perhaps this story, illustrates something. (Story courtesy my friend Shanta Konaje)

Ratan Tata was holding a weekly meeting with Tata Steel staff at a football ground in Jamshedpur.

While watching the football match, to strike a conversation, a worker took up an issue.

He told Tata that the toilets for workers was terribly bad with leaking taps, clogged commodes and unbearable stink. No maintenance was being done for workers toilets, whereas the maintenance of officers toilet was very good, with air purifiers, dryers, hand towels, etc

Ratan Tata asked his top executive how much time he would need to set it right. He said 1 month. 

Ratan Tata said, " I would rather do it in half a day" and asked for a carpenter.

Next day the toilet sign board on workers toilet was changed to officers and officers to workers. There were instructions to change it back every fortnight.

Quality of both toilets became good.

Excellent example of Efficient Management  and Effective Execution.


Friday, September 09, 2016

Bappa : A State of Mind

The city, alive with Ganpatibappas arriving everywhere.

Some, with the building kids skipping along , chanting Ganpati Bappa Morya  with some parent carrying the deity home, lightly covered in the best household silk.

Some, in what look like chariots, emblazoned with the owner's name, escorted with a couple of bands,  drummers, ladies in traditional finery (sometimes on motorcycles) , and general leader types, walking at the head of it all.

Some Housing Society Bappas, on carts , being enthusiastically escorted to halls, where the residents wait to welcome him.

And then there are Bappas, who preside over depictions of society ills, victories of truth over falsehoods, congratulating the Olympic heroes, and recommending Swachh cleanliness as being next to Godliness.  

Ganpati Bappa, admired by people across caste and religion, an opportunity for folks to visit friends and partake of the celebration.

One goes back to one's childhood home in another city , on a visit.

There are more rooms than people there. Some having shifted for traditional reasons, some having flown the nest .  But the walls , chock-a-block with memories

There are childhood memories of Ganpati celebrations in the house, vociferous artis recited along with visiting friends and relatives; you never really sat down and learned the artis; you simply participated and they imprinted themselves in your memory , as you continued to bring clarity to the words as you grew up. The excitement of distributing prasad, evenings when folks gathered and kids recited things , performed dramas, and a whole bunch of small kids giggled behind covered mouths as they observed an elderly aunt singing something classical, and performing difficult taanaas . Someone always glared at them, but  Ganpati Bappa never did.

Then there would  be the day when Bappa would be leaving to return to his own abode. Prayers, artis, prasad , and there would be a Shidori or packed refreshments of Poha, dahi, jaggery etc that would go along with Bappa .

Lots of singing of "Ganpati Bappa Morya, Pudhchyaa warshi laukar ya " , lots of bravado , and a mind , not so happy at the departure of a special guest, Bappa.  A procession winding around the colony, making its way to the well nearby,  a final arti, an immersion, and a quiet return home, with some soil from the immersion site.     

Sometimes , for a moment , strangely one feels like Bappa. 

Once a year, a homecoming.  To a place , where there isn't anyone, but just someone you have known since childhood, who took care of you and assisted in the house. He is almost 80 , and has an amazing memory. You are in touch with him, mostly on the phone, and he never fails to ask about family who stay beyond he seas. Their children and their children's children. You are never at a loss for words and conversation when you meet him.  

There isn't any special decoration, but the walls come alive with old photos on the wall, some huge crossstitch embroidery laboriously done by you as a child, still displayed above a door. And old radio plays AIR , not the commercial version, but the local station; bhaktigeet in the morning, patriotic songs at some point, and assorted  small audio plays and announcements and news.  Like Bappa, you are there only for a day or two, so you do not want to get involved in getting the kitchen fully operational, meals and all. 

The phone rings. Someone has found out one has arrived. Lots of conversation, reproaches, promises made to come later. One also has to make some calls , and for a while the technology rules.

The daughter who has accompanied you for her own activities, take a round of the terrace; your bad back prevents you from rushing up and down with her.   She comes back gushing about the amazing coconut palm, huge colocassia leaves, and a wildly blooming ajwain bush. All nurtured by him .

He busies himself in the kitchen as you get organized for the day. The homecoming demands a home meal, and he looks disapprovingly at the daughter talking bout eating out. He has learned so much from the matriarch of the house , who is no more. For  a while you don't see him, busy as you are with getting refreshed with a wash,  a rest beneath an old creaking  fan , and a quick cup of ginger tea.

An hour later , at the ancient dining table for a simple lunch, steaming plates of rice and a potato rassa as only he can make it; the children of the family , and the children's children, swear by it.

And then he brings out the piece de resistance; the prasad of the day, as it were. 

While we were getting settled in, he has gone to the terrace, plucked a bunch of colocassia leaves, made a stuffing of spiced besan, steamed the colocassia rolls, and is now , having fried them, urging you to taste Aluwadis  अळूवडी, made from home grown ALu अळू or Arbi leaves.

These are special leaves,  he explains, not like the ones you get in the market, which often leave a scratchy feeling in the throat. This is Doodh-Alu , which is never scratchy, and a broken stem generates sweet white sap , hence the name.

There are no words to describe the meal and the Aluwadis अळूवडी. Much urging to have some more. Finish the rassa , he says , because he is "keeping a fast" . 

It isn't just the food.

It's a homecoming like no other.  To an otherwise empty childhood home. A single day  when it all comes back to you. 

An almost  annual visit, sometimes much delayed . But what a homecoming.

You leave the next day .  Full minds, full hearts, full eyes.

Like Bappa, who also stays for 1.5 days.

Like I said, sometimes strangely , for one infinitesmal moment, one feels like Bappa. 

Truly, Bappa is a state of mind ......

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Twittery lives ....

My first day in the US in 1969 when I went for grad school. Before that, I had never flown in a plane, never seen foreign currency, and never been driven on what I was convinced , was the wrong side of the road.

One of my first queries was to ask, where were all the people ? (This was California)

Miles and miles of residences and apartment complexes, empty roads,  closed cars swishing by, that too without honking.

Coming from a place where at any given time on a road outside your house, people may be seen going somewhere, cycling, pushing carts, biking, some even driving cars, just sitting around,  having a cuppa, or calling out to someone, the silence on the American roads was deafening.   Your mornings were never punctuated with three pressure cooker whistles from the next house, and no one stood in doors, debating the state of the world with folks in other house doors.

One of the first things I was told, is that in the US, you didn't ring your neighbour's doorbell and drop in unannounced for a chitchat. Also, if you borrowed even a single penny from someone you gave it back. There was no concept of  paying 25 paise for someone, and then it being waived off  as too small to get involved in repayment. Something that was part of our life back home.

And while it looked like here was a society that functioned strictly according to rules , where privacy and the adult individual  was supreme, it kind of brought home the fact that this was an exclusive society as opposed to India, where we had a very inclusive approach.  Sometimes bordering on the intrusive, but never mind.

Which is why , if you think about it, Twitter and Facebook began in the US. A formalization of informal communication.  Designed to bring folks "closer".  

 Chances are, that majority of the folks who worked on the software design etc, were from India. And one wonders why the need for Twitter and FB was never felt by them in India.

And then there is this thing, that whatever the West introduces,  we swallow. Without chewing.  And where Twitter and FB are concerned , we also , spit out. Sometimes  pointlessly.

Cell phones  have digitized us to such an extent, that today , most folks function in a kind of autonomous-response way; without getting the brain involved  directly. We are  infatuated with immediate responses, and so,  frequently, no , almost always , we bypass the brain. 

I mean who would have thought that photographs of what you are eating might interest anyone worldwide. So puri and batatyachi bhaji photos got forwarded and broadcast, someone drank coriander leaves juice with cucumber and karela, and a thousand people indicated that they "liked" it ; Someone thought they looked like Madhuri Dixit in a sari and posted portraits occupying half  a computer screen, and fellows who would have been otherwise glared at by elders, or who might have even daringly whistled, went to town  giving "likes" and "wow" and "thumbs up".  Very clearly, we lost our original communication style, and slavishly followed the Western model. 

But in all this desperation to match international folks, there was always a collateral damage to reckon with.  There are folks who think and tweet, and then there are those, who do not think and tweet .  Things that would be earlier discussed in fun amidst friends are now stated  in a tweet visible to the public. Folks in authority , lose sight of accuracy in the urge to tweet desperately before someone else  does. The more public the better. (I have always wondered . Was there a world before Twitter ?)

And so you have ministers tweeting at random, messing facts, mixing names.  Causing a plethora of abusive responses by those offended by it all as well as those simply reading for fun and joining in .   You have absolutely uninformed random types, tweeting what they think,  are golden nuggets of useful information, like Usain Bolt ate beef and hence the Gold Medals.  This causing another tsunami of tweets in response.  Folks from news channels, fight  with others of their ilk, at a level one did when one was in school ; calling people names  has become a developed  art.  Absolutely anyone comments on anything, any subject, and an entire twitterized Facebooking population, desperately types and clicks to be heard themselves. 

Sometimes, with expectations of instant responses, and perhaps an occasional lack of that thereof,   I think peoples brains are actually affected.

And so daily, your newsfeed has outrageous news items like , some guy throwing a woman out of a running train because she refused to shift; a discussion was never an option ?  A guy chases someone , hoping for a positive response. A lack of that response leads to him physically harming the girl .  There is a general societal  tendency , not just to go digital, but behave in a binary fashion; this or else.  There are stories you read about a guy demanding a particular cell phone, and commiting suicide  or homicide because he didnt get it. There are stories about fathers abusing daughters,  elders being abused and videos being made about it, and this outlandish demand for instant decisions, probably throws brains into chaos.  Dehumanising is the word that comes to mind.  

Kids are constantly glued to phones at home,and perhaps a day will come when a mother whatsapps from the kitchen , saying food is ready, and some kid responds with  emoticon implying a grin.  Then she whatsapps saying she has made puranpolis , and the fellow immediately responds with thumbs up sign, while of course , checking FB in another window.

A day will come when Google, and such types will work on a software that converts emoticons and gif's to audio.   Perhaps they already do.  And I am sure our fellows will be at the forefont working on that software. Which will come on Playstore as an App , and the whole of India will download it.

Such a collossal waste . Its like you waste an entire generation , simply to come back to the same place you started from. And in the process , addle peoples brains. 

Maybe 50-60 years from now, people will have atrophied thumbs and index fingers from overuse . Eyelids will have a permanent downward orientation, due to a lifetime of watching the phone screen . And someone at John Hopkins will do a study and publish a paper on this. 

I am not sure I like all this.

I still hark back to communication where one uses not just words, but tones, eyes, facial expressions , hands and so on.  It hurts to see crowds of folks at bus stops, busy clicking away on their phones all by themselves, when I remember making friends, chitchatting and discussing, say, the state of the roads, potholes, crowds etc .

The only saving grace in all this massive digitization, is the very Indian concept of introducing the "missed call" and its numerous uses. "Making a missed call"  is itself confusing for anyone else to understand.  You either make a call or you don't. You either answer or you don't.

Perhaps, doing something, and going through the motions, with the end result already known , is a very Indian thing to do.

Ask any politician.

Friday, August 05, 2016

We, the shameless....

Reading the newspaper and listening to television news these days, is very disturbing, and   it makes one wonder if human brains are actually " devolving " and changing for the worse.

There is a severe lack of reason, an avaricious attitude towards quick earnings, and a complete lack of ethics. There is no respect for life, women, parents, fellow beings, children, animals ,  and it appears at times, that animals have more sense of right and wrong compared to humans. An alarming tendency to take the law in one's own hands, and pride in being a liar .

Coming to a fork in the road and taking the wrong road seems to be in fashion.  2016 seems to be the zenith of such things.

And then I came across this information , which astounded me. 

The Bhagwat Purana , one of the eighteen holy Puranas of Hindus, consists of 12 books (skandhas) covering 332 chapters (adhyayas) . The 12th book, has something to predict about how society will have evolved  in Kalyug.

You dont have to be a believer in the theory of all these "Yugs".  It isn't as if a bell rang somewhere in the universe, and Kalyug began.  It really is a gradual sinking of human society into what maybe called the quicksand of blind  thoughtless selfish desires   

Personally, I am not very religious or ritualistic, fairly apolitical, and tend more towards a spiritual thinking mode.  But whether you believe in anything, any religion, Kalyug, or God,  or not, you cannot be anything but astounded at what has been predicted by Veda Vyasa  thousands of years ago and documented in the Bhagwat Purana. 

(Each of these actually elicited, in my mind,  a snide comment related to current events. I've refrained from writing those comments here alongside each prediction.   It would interesting to see what comes to your mind reading thee predictions.

Check out the predictions here.    Reproducing them below for quick perusal.

1. (12.2.1) Religion, truthfulness, cleanliness, tolerance, mercy, duration of life, physical strength and memory will all diminish day by day because of the powerful influence of the age of Kali.

2. (12.2.2)  In Kali Yuga, wealth alone will be considered the sign of a man’s good birth, proper behaviour and fine qualities. And law and justice will be applied only on the basis of one’s power.

3. (12.2.3)  Men and women will live together merely because of superficial attraction, and success in business will depend on deceit. Womanliness and manliness will be judged according to one’s expertise in sex, and a man will be known as a brahmana just by his wearing a thread.

4. (12.2.4)  A person’s spiritual position will be ascertained merely according to external symbols, and on that same basis people will change from one spiritual order to the next. A person’s propriety will be seriously questioned if he dos not earn a good living. And one who is very clever at juggling words will be considered a learned scholar.

5. (12.2.5)   A person will be judged unholy if he does not have money, and hypocrisy will be accepted as virtue. Marriage will be arranged simply by verbal agreement, and a person will think he is fit to appear in public if he has merely taken a bath.

6. (12.2.6)   A sacred place will be taken to consist of no more than a reservoir of water located at a distance, and beauty will be thought to depend on one’s hairstyle. Filling the belly will become the goal of life, and one who is audacious will be accepted as truthful. He who can maintain a family will be regarded as an expert man, and the principles of religion will be observed only for the sake of reputation.

7. (12.2.7)   As the earth thus becomes crowded with a corrupt population, whoever among any of the social classes shows himself to be the strongest will gain political power.

8. (12.2.9)  Harassed by famine and excessive taxes, people will resort to eating leaves, roots, flesh, wild honey, fruits, flowers and seeds. Struck by drought, they will become completely ruined.

9. (12.2.10)   The citizens will suffer greatly from cold, wind, heat, rain and snow. They will be further tormented by quarrels, hunger, thirst, disease and severe anxiety.

10. (12.2.11)   The maximum duration of life for human beings in Kali Yuga will become 50 years.

11. (12.3.42)   Men will no longer protect their elderly parents.

12. (12.3.41)   In Kali-yuga men will develop hatred for each other even over a few coins. Giving up all friendly relations, they will be ready to lose their own lives and kill even their own relatives.

13. (12.3.38)   Uncultured men will accept charity on behalf of the Lord and will earn their livelihood by making a show of austerity and wearing a mendicant’s dress. Those who know nothing about religion will mount a high seat and presume to speak on religious principles.

14. (12.3.36)  Servants will abandon a master who has lost his wealth, even if that master is a saintly person of exemplary character. Masters will abandon an incapacitated servant, even if that servant has been in the family for generations. Cows will be abandoned or killed when they stop giving milk.

15. (12.3.32)   Cities will be dominated by thieves, the Vedas will be contaminated by speculative interpretations of atheists, political leaders will virtually consume the citizens, and the so-called priests and intellectuals will be devotees of their bellies and genitals.

This is not a Nostradamic prediction, or something predicted by an obscure Bulgarian personality who documented her visions, actually "saw" events, and is supposed to have predicted 9/11.

It is a commentary on how society would  develop . So many of the above predictions ring a bell , pointing to recent happenings and observation of behaviours , not just in India but across the world. Every single prediction above will remind you of something you recently heard, saw , or read.

I do not know what the solution is. And how to implement it , if it exists.

In  12.3.51 ,  the Bhagwatam suggests that  the solution lies in chanting the name of God , to raise ourselves spiritually, and achieve transcendence ,  despite being in a terrible Kalyug.

 I fear that.

So many of our problems today are happening because  , across the world, so many chant the name of their own Lord , with evil motives in mind.



Friday, May 20, 2016

Minding other people's business.....

We are all so excellent at NOT minding our own business.

It is one thing to be interested in someone/something and keep those opinions to yourself, regardless of how thrilling/good/bad/complimentary/abusive the opinions might be.

 It is quite another thing to compulsorily listen to someone you don't know, or simply know by sight, passing an opinion on you, unasked.

As a child , one learned to ignore and keep one's own counsel, and clarify things with parents, and this translated into an adult, who could deal with  any nonsense comment and opinion, , by simply pushing it aside and devaluing it out of the mind, and classifying the commenter as, hitherto,  persona non grata .

And so in high school, (I still remember the bullying senior girls, who passed disparaging comments on me (for no reason at all , since i hardly knew them)  , and ensured they reached me via a classmate of mine ).  It troubled me then , but I overcame it.

And I still remember admiring the grand but completely inappropriate ,  outfit worn by a newly acquired relative-by-marriage, just for walking down a prominent downtown Mumbai street with her husband, and then hearing a comment from her, (complete with a sideways meaningful glance)  about how she  doesn't like shabby dressers . :-)

And much later, another similar female personality, who greeted me at a family event  where I went rushing from work, juggling a kid and Mumbai windblown /sweaty traffic etc, to be asked , "Why do you look so haggard ?"  and I resisted an impulse to say I was practicing being a witch.

A lifetime of dealing with  completely unacceptable questions and unasked-for advice about choices, complexions, kids, purchases etc, convinced me that level of education had nothing to do with the ability to poke your nose into some one's business, and give unasked for advice, which was outrageous and sometimes , even wrong.  In fact I was convinced that the higher the level of education, the more stupid the suggestions. (I still stand by that ).  I also noticed that it wasn't just women, but men also who  thought they were doing a favour by giving opinions.

A few decades down the line,  folks have given up interfering , or so I thought.

What has stood me in good stead, is the ability  to not take any offence  at  what anyone says (regardless of how personal it is) ,  brush away these folks from my mind, and ignore them,  while quickly checking out their suggestions (for random useful points) , before forwarding them to Recycle Bin .

But destiny has now thrown up a completely different set of folks who are desperate to advise me. 

I think twice before visiting the much prevalent Handloom and Handicraft exhibitions , which in addition to the normal things,  always have a few stalls with acupuncture footwear, massage rollers, oils and stuff, as well as stalls with all kinds to chatpata amla, ginger, and other spicy  stuff which is salted, candied, and sold in packets.

The reason has been my lumbar belt, which I have acquired in the interests of saving what remains of my bedraggled lumbar vertebra, thanks to a lifetime of a habit of lugging inordinate loads myself, be they luggage, shopping or anything else, combined with the vagaries of "old age". 

You turn the corner between the Haryana Handlooms bedsheets and Kolhapur Silver jewellery, and there is a guy sitting behind the jeera and tamarind golis, suddenly  asking me about the belt, and then advising me on weight, what I should eat, not eat, hot water, cold water,  food timings, special herbs to be eaten just so.

Another time, I was admiring some crochet work and heard someone words from below a counter just behind me . I  was thunderstruck to hear a guy mention the thyroid.  Just like that. The guy was having his lunch below the counter, and noticed me standing.  He must have noticed my swollen ankles.   He said I had a thyroid problem (I do) , then weight, and started  giving advice of many things including footwear.

But the most prize winning performance has been a couple of days ago . 

We often prefer to take a ricksha to near by places because it solves the problem of parking your vehicle, having it towed by authorities, and then one spending hours getting it back from some place else.

The minute we got into the ricksha, something clicked "ON" in the driver's head.  He started analyzing my back problem, identified the actual dorsal vertebra, explained the causes of low back pain. Then he went on to explained the concepts of the vertebral column abnormally straightening instead of keeping its S shape. Vitmain D made its entry in the lecture, with him ruing the fact that no one got up early these days to take benefit of the early morning Sun which was full of Vit D . He mentioned ancient early morning, post bath  worship of the Sun. He then came to the sitting postures, and described what we did wrong.  In between sudden braking, swerving to various sides to avoid , say,  other nonscientific ricksha wallas, he explained rules of diet, when we should eat, what we should eat, and how drinking warm/hot water works wonders.

At a traffic light, I asked him if he came from a family of "vaidyas", which might explain his interest. He answered in the negative. He started college, but had to leave  after a few years due to financial compulsions, and started driving a ricksha. But he had great interest in the human body and health, and so had continued to read up things in biology, and human anatomy , simply as a useful hobby.

Maybe I am getting affected by this business of poking one's nose into someone else's business.

 I dearly wanted to interview the fellow, and do an article on him, where he grew up, his family background, his education, and what brought him to Mumbai.  How he developed this huge store of knowledge that he brought up good naturedly, each time he found a likely target, like me.

I wonder about all these folks who spend their entire lives doing something totally unconnected like selling bedsheets, or chatpata stuff and pickles in exhibitions, while actually pursuing some kind of native interest in anatomy and health.

I wonder what would have been the case if they had good schools and colleges where they hailed from, where merit was rewarded , and schools and colleges  allowed to benefit from funds allocated to them, instead of finding their way into pockets of unscrupulous politicians.

But what brings a smile to the mind, ( in the face of my experience of a fancy orthopedic person, in a fancier orthopedic place,  unwilling to check the swollen ankle to classify what kind the swelling was),  is the guy having  a dabba meal behind the exhibition counter, amidst sarees and dupattas, noticing my ankles from below the counter , and  giving his diagnosis.

Great minding of other people's business , hmm ?

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ball games...

"Life is a ball !"  


And this was not said with stars in her eyes, and visions of stepping around in a gossamer skirt with a diameter equal to her  height.  

It was said with a wisdom and experience , collated over the years, in the face of the complicated society we have become. 

She lay, with sparse hair, bones protruding, with a lot of fire in her eyes. The big C at a young age, her singular chemo  fight , and now the conclusion.  A gifted, intelligent , hard working young girl, now twentyfive years down the line,  ruing it all , having lost her faith in the male of the species.  Thanks to her experience.  Bitter about her treatment, having to encounter the public face and the private face of the man who she lived with.  A slow rubbishing over the years,  initially ignored by her , and now extrapolated into a future which did not include her.  The last few years she was being encouraged to leave and go.   Where ?  Away .  Anywhere. She was not needed.

She looks up. 
"Yes. Life is a ball.

Mostly football.  Its about being kicked around, chased around, and applauded by shameless guys in the stands. When someone is kicking you , there are others trying to take over, participating in the kick festival.   You are flung across metres, and you hope to have a safety net at the end of it all, but they even have someone there , to get you back into the kicking mela again.

In some places, they even run away with you, chased by other folks, and then everyone falls over each other with scant regard for the ball. Some guy pretending the salvage the situation comes with a whistle,  but it is more about  calming down the violent ones, than concern about the ball.

Then there is  the hockey types.  They think they can just play with your emotions.  twiddling you around a stick with a turn at one end, running all over the place, with simply no  way to know whats happening; others with sticks trying to interfere and take off with the ball, and then all of a sudden , there is a whack . The surprise of your life, as you fall into a net. You think you stand a chance, but no. Someone screams "penalty", and you think finally someone is being punished for some wrong . How wrong can you be !  It's all about you being whacked once again ...

But the worst is the cricket ones.  The most mercenary minded ones.  There are those who slather mud on you, spit on you, and some even surreptitiously get hair oil on you , and then pretend to polish you .  One after another, you are flung with great speed at some guy waiting with a piece of wood. And then begins  the worst time of your life as you are whacked, beaten, flung, whipped, reverse-slapped; sometimes flush along the ground, and sometimes high up in the sky. You are momentarily mislead into experiencing freedom, till you come down to earth and find someone waiting to take over, clutching you as if his life depended on it.

There are guys who pretend to clean up the dirt, and actually unravel the seam of your life when no one is looking. Sometimes they get caught, but nothing happens.

In all these efforts, there is always one guy who pretends to be really posh, and wears gloves when dealing with you.  It has nothing to do with being decent. The ultimate aim is to throw you hard and dislodge two foolish pieces resting on 3 pointy sticks behind the hitter.

All this violence in the life of the ball, and like some governments, they make rules, and pretend to give you a break , as they choose another one to abuse from a box . 

What kind of a society, celebrates the whacking violence on a ball, by having scantily clad,  leaping girls , jump up and down waving at the  audience in the stands ?  What kind of  mercenary society  congratulates  those who promote the maximum violent attack on the ball ?   What kind of society , changes rules and forms of the game,  encourages  situations where no ball is left untouched, but whipped , whacked, beaten, sliced, with greater and greater frequency ? "

She pushes herself help against the pillow, refusing any help.  She looks for and finds her glass of water.  An empty plate below her bed is the only sign of intake of food.  The effort tires her, and she settles down again, a sad  smile playing on her lips. 

" He asked me to leave again.  This time, said he will pay me 30,000 a month "  .

 There is fire in her eyes again.

"I just asked him if the IPL was affecting him. I mean they buy and sell people there.  Perhaps this was a form of buying my departure in installments ? ...." 

She is tired . Her eyes close.  A sharp and courageous mind, fighting to the end. 

Tomorrow will be another day.  Another game.