Friday, December 29, 2006

The little girl grows up......

It was just yesterday, it would seem, that I was in, what passed for a garden, outside, our four-apartment building. The lake opposite our building , although struggling under the weight of the daily intake of construction silt, retained its illusory green top, which was actually the terribly undesirable water hyacinth, propagating itself with a vengeance.

Evening breezes appeared to add to the charm of a slightly cool early february evening, as a gaggle of small children, excitedly blabbering, turned the corner, gifts clutched anxiously in their hands, secretly wishing it was their own turn to recieve them....

They were welcomed at the house by the impatient birthday child, who couldnt really wait to get started with the games. But first there was the photograph in the garden. The garden was full of rocks, ensuring a teetering child every few square feet; and so they stood, innocent faces glinting in the setting sun, holding on to each other for balance, nudging each other , trying to act grown up, sort of trying to ignore indulgent grandparents asking them to "smile", "look up", "move to the left" and assorted stuff.

And all the while, there was this girl , who stood firmly next to the birthday boy, ensuring that several layers of her multilayered frock wafted in the breeze, giving a blooming effect - just what she wanted.

She was a special childhood friend. She and the birthday boy were less than a month apart in age. Both their mothers worked. (Fathers of course worked, but thats the default; we dont mention that). Whats more, when these two were not at school, they both attended the same creche, where they had the kind of status airlines confer upon their "gold card members". At a fairly young age, both these kids learnt to talk like older people, often amusing those around them , with their unique interpretation and lack of finesse in talking about sensitive topics like bride-groom searches , as they observed the going ons around them.

The boy's birthday plans were avidly discussed by them; she was around when the birthday cake was being iced by the boy's mother, who pretended not to notice, when these two "accidentally" got chocolate icing on their fingers. She even had a special dress for her friend's birthday. She described it in great geometric detail to his parents, till the father of the boy actually ventured to see it on D-day, and brought a beaming smile to the little girl's face by exclaimng that she was wearing 3-3 skirts ! She , of course, revelled , in what she thought was the supreme ignorance of father types, about girls fashions..... 3 skirts indeed.

And one day the boy had one of those illnesses which all parents think is a nuisance and all children think, is a great opportunity , to bunk school and read comics. The little girl's mother was a doctor, and she layed own the ground rules . Rest, medicines, good nutrition. While the little boy busied himself scratching here and there, swallowing medicines, making faces, trying to sleep, and eating what his worried mother offered , his great friend, collected all her comic books together, (current hot sellers on railway stations) with outrageous names and titles, and sent word through her mother, that she knew what the little boy needed were these books. They got you better faster. Her mother was a doctor, but they did not teach this is in medical college......

The boy spent several hours reading, barely able to control his mirth , cracking up at the antics of various cartoon types, as he lay in his bed, taking the mandatory "rest", at an age where human brownian motion was really the norm.

By and by the littlle girl grew up, went to college. In an age where going to engineering school was the most treaded path, she decided to get non-technical. But mathematical. Elders advised otherwise. Peer pressure. Arguments. Tears, Fights. And she won. She enjoyed college, the fests, the new friends, , but she still remained the little girl at heart.

One of her neighbours was another little strong minded girl, who actually needed to learn subtraction (with carry , if you please), but actually thought swimming was a better way of spending time. The age difference between the two was more than ten years. But one day, found the little girl at the older girl's place, sitting with her to learn the tricks of the trade for doing subtraction (with carry), with one eye on the going ons in the kitchen, and one nostril inhaling wonderful aromas. And the older one succeeded . The session ended with some great refreshments, details of which were carried home by the little girl, with great relish and licking of lips. The younger one, today, is probably a sworn enemy of calculus, and geometry, but "subtraction with carry " is what maths is all about :-)

The boy and the girl both went their different ways, learning different things. The girl did her post graduation, and went out into the world. A lot of her contemporaries left India, to learn from new jobs in new cultures, in new languages. But she knew what she wanted. She bided her time. Travelled. Thought of taking some exams, in case further studies appeared as an option on the horizon.

But this only child of her parents found her calling away from her city. She moved to a city about 1000 kilometres away. She enjoyed her job, her life with her roommates, the joy of handling her own problems, tears and all. All the while she remained very connected to the maternal house, through the electronic umbilicus. Everytime she came on a visit home, she looked up and contacted all the friends, including the little boy's folks, although the little boy, not being little any more, was now working and hardly ever home. And they appreciated how well she was doing and how well she had adjusted to her new life. And she made sure, that she looked up her "subtraction (with carry)" student, who was now a teenager, and very much into Warli painting. Sure enough, a day before she left, the younger girl was etching stuff on a white t-shirt , something for the older one to wear, sure to garner comments from her friends . Well , one of a kind t-shirt, did you say? More like one-of-a kind friend. She gave her plain tshirt to the younger kid to paint on, and took it with her when she left.

Today the little girl, who explained the flounces on the layers of her frock , on the boy's birthday, stands on the threshhold of a new life. She excelled at her job. Kudos rained forth. Some part of them sprinkled over to her family, who basked in the satisfaction of their only child settling down well in life.

And then she met him. At work. She was great at her job. He was great at spotting excellence. And all the while, she remained this young, confident, simple, fun loving, but duty conscious, generous hearted girl. It wasnt all fairy tales and fun. There was some suspense. Parents met. Dates were fixed.

We dont see her that often now. Her world has shifted south. But as she readies her self, wrapping herself in the gilt-edged paithanees and kanjivarams and adorning herself, with the shining precious metal, I still hark back, to the day they all stood in the garden for a photograph at the birthday party, and someone yelled "Smile !", and they they all posed, thrilled to bits , and smiled.

She is still smiling. At the guy standing next to her. And just like she smoothed the frills on the layers of her frock 19 years ago, she now , confidently, adjusts her saree pallav, the pleats, falling gracefully , shimmering in the light. And he , in his suit, stands proudly next to her.

Someone will be taking photos. And videos. And the two will be smiling and doing namaskars and greeting everyone. And we will all be there, if not physically then in spirit. And in case you hear someone shouting and saying "Smile !", Its probably Someone Up There smiling down at them, through a cascade of blessings....

With all our blessings too.....

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Chewing gum for the eyes in cricket times...

TV is chewing gum for the eyes.
Frank Lloyd Wright

If there is one item that has changed life, per se, it's television. And television and computers have spawned a jungle of statistics.

Observe the excitement over Shane Warne's
700tth wicket. Why seven hunderd, sort of in between ? After all, we always talk about 100 runs or a century; Tendulkar achieving the milestone of 10,000 runs. No one ever heard of anyone celebrating anything 700, 7000 or say, 300,

Shane Warne announces he is retiring at the end of this series, and immediately a hype is built up . Anything-99 is always a suspenseful situation. So television types went ballistic over 700 wickets, tributes poured in from Cricket Australia, folks rushed to get tickets for the Sydney Test. Poor Glenn Mcgrath got pulled along in the wake, till he had to issue a denial later. Inexplicably, he then shortly, anounces his retirement at the end of the 2007 World Cup.

Television demands drama.

Every twitch hovering about your lips and every tear descending from your eyes is recorded for posterity. Sledging, hitherto restricted to the pitch, suffers, due to the presence of microphones near the stumps, And gnarling bowlers have spawned an entire generation of lip readers, who can tell what kind of words are being exchanged by adversaries. Your gait, as you return to the pavillion is scrutinised and analysed, till you feel like just lying down on the grass right there, alone with your thoughts, after a flying career .

Cricket they say, is a gentlemens'game. That was probably true till the operative adjective was "gentle".

Whoever heard of , say, Bapu Nadkarni, exulting over a wicket, pumping his arms, shaking his fist and twirling the ball while doing aeroplane like action runs on the field ? Prasanna and Chandrashekhar often endeavured to hold up the tail of the batting side; so does Sreesanth. Notwithstanding the fact that I grew up listeneing to radio commentary of cricket matches due to the non existence of TV, I dont ever recall anyone ever reporting on Prasanna et al dancing down the wicket , concluding with a bharat natyam /breakdance mudra at the end of it all, to the complete consternation of the bowler.....
Dramatics certainly existed. Gilchrist and Nari Contractor are proof enough. One ended his career.

Somehow, one cannot imagine the Nawab of Pataudi whipping of his shirt and twirling it from the pavillion balcony, and Gundappa Vishwanath was more comfortable exchanging cool smiles with the bowler, while whipping the ball regularly beyond the ropes.

We never knew the length of a batsman's hai and frankly, it never mattered to us whether he even HAD hair. And here we have M. S. Dhoni, celebrating his arrival on the cricket scene , so to speak, with a drastic coloring of his hair, appearing immediately in motorcycle commercials, where he compares his milk drinking with the vehicles gas guzzling..... (actually he is shown to lose out. I wish someone thought of using him for a "drink milk" commercial, hopefully , free)

And then there is this thing about the sunscreen stuff they plaster on.

By and large, sun strength on the subcontinent has remain unchanged over, say the last 50 years. The indian skin, I like to think has some built in protection native to our natural habitat. Unlike white skin, with its absence of melanin, we do not tend to suffer from serious tanning issues.

Television, has proven to be a fertile ground for multinational sports cosmetics comapnies, who hitherto spied only on teams from colder, western countries. So you see Sehwag splattered with the white stuff on his face and around his lips, Zaheer Khan, manages to improve on his ferocious looks at the batsmen, as he takes his final bowling leap, his mouth surrounded by a border of the white stuff, glaing at the batsman. Muttering through the white stuff is even better.

They all lookalike, were it not for their one -day match colours.

Strangely though, except for matches held in India, and possibly Pakistan, most of the time there is very little audience watching these histrionics. The game is being played , not for the people, but for TV audiences. Where Cricket Control Boards rake in the Moolah selling the TV rights.

When the TV cameras pan across the stadium, giving their commentators a breather, one sees empty stands, clean green hillock like outfields, devoid of spectators. And all the while, a dumbstruck captive TV audience inhales and exhales tension with every ball bowled by Sreesanth, Munaf, Irfan and company, and every cut,glance and swipe, reverse or otherwise exhibited by a Tendulkar or Dravid. Traffic actually reduces on the main thouroughfares of Mumbai, and you can actually get place to sit in buses and trains.

And while we are on records and staistics, why not go back to the days, when radio commentary was still an idea in someones head.

It may have occurred to some that Warnes 700 wickets will shine only till someone else comes up with 703 or something. The upper limit is adjustible. With the amount of cricket being played today, thanks to TV sponsorships, its a matter of time before the norm will be 20,000 runs and 1000 wickets, all upwardly adjustable.

So we need to go back to when Teat Cricekt first began. Between England and Australia. I am sure there werent hundreds of guys compiling statistics then, but some performances get remembered....

Charles Bannerman of Australia set a number of records in the first England Australia Test.. He faced the first ball in test cricket, scored the first run, the first four and the first century. He scored 165 not out in Australia’s 245 all out. Of all the records he set in that match one record still holds – his 165 constituted 67.34% of Australia’s total (245) – the highest percentage by a batsman in a completed test innings.

Charles Bannerman scored the first test century. Billy Murdoch, who played for both Australia and England scored the first test double century (he also hit the first ever six in test cricket). Andy Sandham of England scored the first triple century (in what was his last test match), and Brian Lara has scored the only quadruple century.

And since we began with Shane Warne, it is only fitting that we end with some other bowlers with records of some other types.

Who is the worst bowler in test cricket? It is Rawl Lewis of the West Indies whose three match test career saw a bowling average of 318 (the worst in test history) at a strike rate of 585. However, Roger Wijesuriya of Sri Lanka has the worst strike rate of 586 - though he has a better average of 294!

TV, anyone ?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Undemocratic fashion.

Fashion : NOT (of the people, for the people, by the people)

There is actually something called FDCI. Fashion Design Council of India. If you insist on knowing the expansion.

Its not terribly clear whether it is something set up by designers to "institutionalise" their profession, or whether it is something the government has set up , in a sort of semi interested way, (if such a thing is at all possible); but the person heading it right now, is a retired IAS (Indian Administratice Service) lady officer, with a huge amount of experience in handicrafts, tourism, and setting up of the National Institutes of Fashion Technology (NIFT) all over India.

For a couple of years now, newpapers get occasionally slavishly addicted to writing about the annual FDCI/Lakme fashion shows. There is always some fight going on between Mumbai and Delhi designers which is highlighted. Reams of paper are devoted to how some Page 3 types, are leaving everything they are doing, to fly urgently to the concerned metros, so they can sit in the first row (reserved, if you please), wearing, what my mother would have called "shameless" clothes, and an expression that would make people think they are listening to a debate on the nuclear CTBT. These same people, change into more strange outfits every so many hours; and why not? Even something as sensible as NDTV has a fawning correspondent reporting on the appearance of the various queen bees and king moths, and their clothes and drinks.

All this for what ?

There is this longish stage sort of jutting out into the audience. Every designer has his or her special music playing. The audience is seated at a strategically planned lower level, probably at the ankle level of the parading models. I dont know about the FDCI, but when I was in elementary school, this kind of thing during any Annual Day would have got the parents into an uprising and the principal would have been fired. Ok. Its only children. The audience is only parents. But sitting at that level, and by default looking up someones skirt, is simply not done.

This is, of course, a non-issue at the FDCI. We're globalising, and these faltu things dont bother us.

And so what do you say about a girl, walking across the stage at an angle of 120 degrees to the horizontal; several degrees of amazing freedom created by pencil thin stilletoes; Her dress actually resembles a giant bib, (see the picture above ) like my son used to wear, when he sat in the swing hung on the balcony door, to eat his porridge. Except he wore a t-shirt inside; its not clear whether she wears anything inside, or not.

Then there is this lady who walks on to the stage next, wearing what reminds me of my grand uncle's pajamas. Except she has combined them with what i would define as my grandmothers saree blouse with only one shoulder and NO back. What is totally miraculous is the pajamas are worn BELOW the hips. And there appears to be a diamond stuck on to the navel. No wonder the lady has to walk with so much simple harmonic motion of the hips just to allow the pajama to stay in place. If she stops, they may slide, and she may have, what is these super globalised days, we call a wardrobe malfunction; my mother would have said that someone deserved a tight slap.

Sometimes these models appear wearing what looks like a pure balloon inspired dress. You need , around you, an empty space of at least 3 feet on all sides . Some of these dresses have no shoulders. Some only have sleeves, but no shoulders. The thing to do is to come fashionably in covered with your teenage brothers school blazer . These days its called a "shrug". You come on to the stage, give disdainful looks to a section of the audience, twirl, there is a clash of cymbals, and you remove the shrug; look ma, no shoulders !

They dont even let the saree alone .

Without the FDCI/designers et al, India has had a variety of saree draping styles, traditionally enjoyed by the women , over several hundred years. There is the Kerala Half Saree, the typical Tamil Nadu nine yard draping, the Maharashtrian nine yard grace, the various ways a six yard saree is draped, Marathi, Gujarati, Bengali, Marwari and what have you. All these styles have evolved with the emancipation of women from that particular region. A way of draping when you maintain the housekeys (bengali), a way of draping in front of elders, a way of draping and tucking in when busy with some physical work, and a way of draping when feeling cold....

I remember from my childhood, two distinct ways the 9 yard saree was draped. One way was favoured by the more active ladies, who cycled to work, and were PT teachers in schools etc. The other method was patronised by those more homebound, with less strenuous lifestyles. There is a third style patented by the Koli women of Mumbai; a sensible, no nonsense style that allowed you to comfortably work in water and land, where you needed to rush here and there, picking fish from heaps, sortng, loading, travelling in a hurry to the market through crowded trains etc.

Todays designers have no concept of Utility of dress. Precious stones are stitched on to whole sarees , which are instrinsically made longer in length, and thinner in texture. The sarees are wound several times (more than normal) before the paloo is flung over the shoulder. ( I cant see myself running to catch a bus in this. And I would discourage anyone trying to do that with so many precious stones attached) . Poor me; I still dont believe it when the salesman says its 6 yards, and make him measure it. I shudder at the lenghth I will need to measure here.

The other trick is to make it look as if no blouse is worn. This is achiieved by having straps on blouses. And then casually allowing your open hair to fall over it. Sort of a cross of Meena Kumari and Princess Diana. Sometimes, the purpose of the palloo is done away with altogether. How else will anyone see the pearl beadwork on the non trivial section of the blouse ? Models march across the stage holding their palloos widely away from their torso.

(Take a deep breath. Count up to 10. Temper under control). 20 years ago, someone would have thought she is in the process of removing the saree. No nice girls did that on stage. Today nice is a bad word.

Can you see youself going to work in your uncle's pajamas, and grandmother's saree blouse? Will a balloon dress put you at a superior advantage getting into bus no 392 going to Ghatkopar ? Will a thigh level frock combined with skin colored tights be ideal wear in Central railway second class ladies bogey? How do you feel about squeezing your way to the front of the bus (trying to get off) during the 7 pm rush hour, wearing a stomach skin displaying top on low rise jeans ? And do you dare to complain if you get advertantly or inadvertantly pinched in the process?

Is that off-the-shoulder dress going to be dangerous healthwise, given that you are standing in the doorway of a ladies compartment, half out of the door, and not likely to get a place to enter in till your station comes? Do you think the strategically placed slit at the back of your knee length skirt is a great aid for climbing into buses when several people behind you urge you to hurry up in cast the bus starts moving ? And why crib about the staring, observant person (in the seat next to where you stand, wearing your smart short top, displaying your considerable midriff) as you hang on to the oscillating overhead starps , on you way to college?

Somehow, in the effort at promoting originality, the individuality has been lost.

The question is who is all this for, and who is going to wear these clothes. And is this what we teach at the National Institutes of Fashion Technology?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Rich men, poor cousins

Koneru Humpy :Chess Gold Pictured below .

All those people who exhibit traumatic reactions watching our guys getting out in cricket matches, have suddenly gone into slow motion action-replay , given whats happening in the first test today. There is an entire population of Sachin-disciples, age-no-bar, who look accusatively at folks, and defend Sachin's getting out in 50's, (in the 1st test vs SA) now that everyone else , in both teams ,is barely getting beyond 10's,20's and some, even single digits.

One doesnt hear a squeak from our esteeemed parliamentarians either; i suppose, throats become sore due to excess shouting, sometimes, about Greg Chapell, and sometimes about Ganguly. I dont remember hearing anything about cricekting ability, in either the election posters, or speeches , and I certainly did NOT elect my representative , so he could waste time on cricket, given that he could spend it more productively, supporting the 33% reservation for women Bill.

Should India win this test, telegrams and calls will go forth from folks in Delhi, planes will be diverted to Delhi, and parliamentarians who straddle sport and legislation with consummate ease will appear benignly smiling in photographs when the team poses with the PM.

And then there is this stunning silence post the Asian Games in Doha.

Our athletes run and jump their hearts out, and get medals. One of our runners, ran with a burn injury (scalding hot soup spilt during the previous day dinner) on her thigh. Koneru Humpy and two others get medals in Chess. The Womens Hockey team gets a medal, showing the Men's team how its done. Anju Bobby George leaps her best for a medal. Our Archers and shooters show that they are among the best medal winners. Even our rowers, all psyched up , are in contention for a medal. And who can forget Tennis ? Sania very much amongst the precious metal medals, and Mahesh and Leander pick up their doubles gold, and never mind that the lustre may appear slightly diminished by the petulant cribbing and fighting amongst the two. Harshavardhan Singh Rathore shows what tough army disciplined practice can produce in terms of medals.

Jaspal Rana shoots for 2 golds, and is nominated and is in contention for the Best Athlete of the Games award.

So what do the powers that be do? Our Parliamentarians have their fingers on their lips. The Sports officials, in a not so surprising display of INATTENTION to detail, inform Jaspal Rana that he IS declared the best athlete of the games; and start getting organised to rush him back to Doha. Only to find out that a Korean swimmer has beaten him to it. And never mind the mental trauma of the shooter.

Aisa hota hai.

(Kya hai, our sports persons are so used to careless handling of equipment, visa delays, arbitrary refusal of permissions, disgusting travel, boarding and lodging arrangements, and they should really be grovellingly grateful that they got to go anywhere at all.)

Our elected representatives discuss Greg Chapell in parliament; the Speaker actively participates. Please. The MP's are elected by us to REPRESENT us. I expect the MP from my region to take cognisance of those athletes that hail from his constituency, and try his best to help them when they are in need. I did not vote for my MP , so he can participate in a totally unqualified manner in deciding about coaches in sports.

What we need is a "sports constituency", just like they have a "graduates constituency". We need eminent senior sportspersons to be nominated/elected to such parliamentary posts. Just like the government has GoM (group of ministers) that work in a group for a specific project, we need to have these sports persons have a group that actively decides on allocation of sports resources.

How come we never hear about Anjali Bhagwat being nominated to Rajya Sabha? Has anyone ever thought that Prakash Padukone could be an asset in sports related decisions at the highest level? What is the rationale behind going ga-ga appointing actors and actresses to the Raya Sabha ?

Until then , be prepared to see a spectacle at the next Games, where the Indian contingent arrives with more officials than athletes; IOU's and quid-pro-quids are the order of the day ; I have often wondered at the proliferance of middle aged pot bellied people marching in, tugging their sports coats with one hand, and waving at the stadium with the other. They let some wellknown athlete function as the flag bearer; shows their benevolence , you know.

And forget about the runners who travel 4 ours everyday through supercrowded trains to train, swimmers who attend meets, get back to their hostels, and find that they need to pretend that the cold hard floor is really a comfortable bed at night; hockey players who end up drinking polluted infected water at their camps in our leading stadiums, as some guy who was supposed to repair the water tank, simply pretended to do so, and was paid for it on a priority basis; and never mind whose priority. Kabaddi players access first aid boxes , grandly labelled, only to realise that its not in their interest to get hurt; medicines are bought, but they never reach the first aid box.

Hmm. And the Indian Cricket team is really upset, because in the recent home series, against , I forget who, they were put up at a hotel with lesser stars than the visiting team hotel.......

Words fail.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Crazy hua re !

Riding back from Pune on a crisp November morning. The illusory suspension of the Volvo bus, belying the terrible condition of some parts of the Pune Mumbai expressway. Fresh after a non seasonal shower of rain, the sun intermittently flashing in through the loosely covered bus window, shining on to the pages of a book I am trying to read. Various cell phones ringing around me, giving me a sort of profile introduction to the owner.

Mustachioed neta types, whipping out their cell phones, just as "sare jahan se achcha" concludes the 'hindosa-tan hamara" part; then talking, out of habit , in lecture mode. Mother types, having bid farewell to a gaggle of relatives who earlier climbed into the bus to situate all the various bags, totally unconcerned about ringtones, speaking into their phones, giving their detailed locations, putting all wordly GIS's to shame.

Daily Pune Mumbai types, with ringtones that provide free advertisement for the latest senseless blockbusters. And then some folks, who think it is important that their ringtone is an exact replica of the chantings that are conducted during Maharashtraian wedding ceremonies: "tadaiva lagnam.... " etc, you get the feeling you are in a karyalaya , albeit, improperly dressed.

In this cacophony, we emerge from one of the biggest tunnels in the ghats and the bus radio sort of signs in with a vengeance putting all these cell phones to shame. There is this song that plays again and again and again.......

After a lot of listening , i figure out that the lady has something to say about "becoming crazy"; "Crazy kiya re" to be precise.

Grey cells , whatever is left of them, working furiously.

Someone or the other has always gone crazy over someone else in Hindi movies. Thats the soul of the whole thing. And over the years , we have had some very hummable music from some great musicians, dedicated to these events. There have been gardens, waterfalls, Himalayas, the Ganges, Europe, Asia, Australia and more, all as a backdrop to some great songs. Every hero-heroine had their typical style, hugely enjoyed and imitated .

Seems to me that in the so called progress towards globalised smartness, all the charm of these things is totally lost. Hardly any melody; even less facial expressions. but a HUGE amount of physical drill, as I percieve.

Earlier movies had forays into gardens, smelling the flowers, palloos getting stuck in the thorns, slippages in the snow, shivering in the ice, rocking boats in the water with excitement, and leaning/sleeping/sitting over a piano to get your so called point across.... WHAT a varety !

There is, now, the heroine, dressed in clothes that a cheer leader would baulk at , hinting at budgets running out while purchasing fabric, performing some kind of aerobic stuff, combined with certain acrobatic manoevres along with the leading man, (and a cast of hundreds behind her), that would scandalise a prospective mother-in-law as well as a professor of anatomy. And I have always wondered if the heroines mother knew where her daughter was, and what she was up to.

The lesser the clothes , the more the degrees of freedom, the lesser the atoms of wisdom.

And she continues to 'exercise' saying "crazy kia re " ?

Unlike in my childhood, youngsters today emulate such heroes and heroines, be it in their clothes, accessories, language, and attitudes. Vast amounts are spent on such dance shootings in movies, and folks even fly to various countries to do that. ( maybe I am a real fool that i havent managed to visit , even the bank in the neighbourhood, for some necessary work due to some household reason). Dhoom skirts and Krish masks are marketed in a frenzy, and some guys go laughing all the way to the bank.

Maybe life has changed.

I can just see my household helper bai, having bought a new TV after months of saving, rolling pin in one hand, bucket in the other, hitching up her nine yard saree, breaking into a 'ago bai, dhoom" dance to express her joy. Or the guy who comes to sweep our building staircase, ecstatic over acquiring the family's first cell phone, trying to convince his neighbour to give him a speedy ride on his motorcycle, complete with leaping over dividers, standing pillion, whizzing past girls at bus stops and what have you, all the while singing "crazy kia re". (All the while, his brother who tries to call him gets a "this number is not available; please try later" message, and becomes an ardent admire of the Hutch lady).

Maybe the old Bhajiwala, who now has to contend with an increasing monkey population where I live, will try and work out ( pun intended) how to save his merchandise from a family of monkeys, in the form of some acrobatic steps, waving a lauki (bottle gourd) in one hand, Karela (bitter gourd) in the other, after having lobbed a cabbage at the father monkey.... and maybe it will be the monkeys who will have the last word, shaking their heads, scratching their stomachs, grinning and baring their teeth , all to the tune of 'crazy kia re" .

I know. The bus has just reached Chembur, and I need to to get off.

As usual the rickshawallahs crowd the bus steps, blocking the exit for me. There are shouts of Mulund ! Mulund !, Bahndup! , Hiranandani! and Powai....! The last guy, gets the nod, and he hurries my bag to his ricksha, me rushing behind, traditionally suspicious of someone hurrying with MY baggage. I get in, he starts the 3 wheeler with a flourish of his electronic ignition.

I settle in, trying to rearrange stuff , turning to see if I can put some of my stuff in the rack behind the seat.

There is no rack. just two immense speakers.

And just as I sigh, and lean back, bag in my lap, there is a burst of music, nay cacophony, and she bursts forth, accompanied by some real traffic, buses, taxis, swirling in clouds of diesel fumes, and hungry petrol smells, all the whiile, oblivious to all, singing , what else, but "crazy kia re".....

I agree. Maybe i should start singing "Crazy Hua re...!".

As a song where the only actions are , (a) a neck extension to see if the signal has changed, (b) a glare at the adjoining vehicle (where the biker thinks he is in dhoom 2), and (c) a wave of the hand to two eunuchs ( who insist on precting dire things for me if I dont open my purse), I am sure my song will be a HIT.

Maybe the rickshawalla can do some drill at the red lights.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Amygdala Inside !

a·myg·da·la (ə-mĭg'də-lə)
n., pl. -lae (-lē).

An almond-shaped mass of gray matter in the anterior portion of the temporal lobe. Also called amygdaloid nucleus.

[Latin, almond, from Greek amugdalē.]

The human body, with its intermingling of the physical amd mental aspects
, continues to fascinate and throw up more and more questions.

Over the last few months, I have spent a lot of time with my father , who at 88, is beset by the usual old age problems. An extrememly active senior citizen, a dedicated yoga practitioner, a fearless opponent of what he considered useless allopathic stuff, my father has spent an intellectually fruitful retirement, writing books on yoga, meditation, how you can be your own doctor, vegetarianism, america, health . He has very strong likes and dislikes, particularly where Bush, Cocacola, Pepsi, Pizza, white sugar, polished rice, maida are concerned. Tobacco and its usage has galvanised him into action to such an extent that rickshawallahs having a smoke, at the stand, near the milk booth where my father went early mornings, appointed a chap to warn them of his arrival.

My father is currently not mobile, and is bedridden, but they still talk of the time he once cornered a young rickshawalla who was smoking away , slapped his cigarette away, and gave him a stinging lecture on how this bad habit was messing around with not only his but his family's future. All this at 5 am . Consequently, it was quite the thing to see several cigarettes being dropped to the ground, and ankles twisting and crushing these into the ground in unision , to the refrain of "Ajoba ale re ale....".

While he continues his own war versus the singularities in his physical health, it has been interesting to see how the brain manages this situation.

i spent most of my working life with computers, right since the days when a single computer system needed a big hall, very user-unfriendly, very pompous. Programs and data was punched on to cards, and input-output of information was a very cumbersome thing. Having grown through the early days of data processing, one tended to learn a lot more on the job , and adjusting to the various advances in the capabilities of newer and newer systems, one had a healthy respect for how one could TEACH the computer to think and process stuff.

Got me thinking about the human brain vis-avis the pc's today.

And the pc's are not a patch on the human brain.

One of the problems faced by my father happens to be that of adequate blood supply. Consequent to the formation of a sump in his main artery, at 88 his heart finds it difficult to maintain adequate blood supply to all extremeties of his 6 foot frame. So when it came to a point where the body needed to prioritise where the blood should go, it turns out that the human brain automatically reduces the blood supply to stuff like our limbs, in order to maintain the required level, for organs like the heart, brain, liver and kidneys! And this is done in a dynamic fashion. So, a person like my father, suddenly finds little strenghth in his limbs, forcing him to rest. but his digestion, excretion, circulation (to key organs) remains intact. A little bit of ups and downs in the situation, and once in a while you see him succeeding in forcing himself up on his elbows, demanding to be taken to the park
and al lthe while he is unable to bear his own weight on his feet.

So we often lift him into a chair with wheels (woe betide anyone who calls it a wheelchair), and "situate" him in the balcony from where he enjoys the greenery and flowers of the park, from where his friends and admirers still wave to him. And his brain learns to "equate" that with an actual trip.

Dementia is a actually an 8 letter word, twice as bad as 4 letter words..... Thats how my father treats it. He is now in his own world, time-and-space-wise. Doesnt recognise visitors, sometimes even family. But what is interesting is, that in all this confused senile situation, he is AWARE that he has a problem. So there is something like a ROOT brain that occasionally functions. Reminds me of being advised to login in single user mode when trouble shooting stuff on a PC.

And so, my father has these stock phrases he uses when he speaks to someone on the phone; 'hows everything at your end? hope everyone is doing ok. i am fine. NO problems at all......there are so many folks here to help etc etc". Works everytime. Makes the person at the other end feel that my father is improving. Makes me wonder, how the blood supply to this "working" part of the brain is kept on par with what is required, while else where, there are all these "bad sector" problems. There are "read errors' and "unable to write' situations, but the system never hangs.

I learnt on the job that when you need to access data you need to index files. A lifetime of data, a lifetime of single and multiple linkages, all stored in the inner recceses of the grey brain. And then i find something interesting. We humans not only store data and the linkages, we attach weightages to each piece of data, proportional to our levels of communication with the person representing that data point. So when my elderly aunt comes to visit my dad, his face goes blank , he cannot place her, but suddenly remembers her son who has been visiting us fairly often over the years, for something my father is interested in doing. So when his brain tries to look through the half garbled indexed information, trying to see who the lady is, there is this blinking arrow pointing to her sons information, and my father immediately picks it up, and surprises us, while totally ignoring data associated with my aunt.

And this ability to look "for the blinking arrow" changes dynamically, irrespective of the complexity of the jungle of linkages, that pervade the grey matter. They say information from neuron to neuron passes elctrically through "synapses" How well this happens, depends , it seems on calcium levels. We started my father on some calcium and sdium supplementation, and the level of improved performance, that manifested itself was , non-trivial.

I like to think that our body is an amazing system. It has parts that work, second after second, sometimes for a century almost. If some parts malfunction, other parts sort of gear up to do their bit, with no external tinkering required. There is a quiet infinitesmal adjustment somewhere, and the system optimses itself under reduced efficiency, trying to face up to a life full of todays external stresses.

In all the mechanical, chemical and electronic systems that work in our body, there is a sense of compensation. When some part of the system dithers due to fatigue (in the industrial sense), the rest of the systems, across the body automatically adjust to a working situation, that still manages to be efficient under the new trying circumstances. The various control centres of our wondrous processor, the brain, set in motion a variety of things like increase of sleep, change in temperature control triggers, enforced resting of certain parts of the body , and something akin to adjusting the screw to put the body carburettor to a new setting, suitable for the new situation in life.

There is intelligence, and there is Artificial Intelligence. You can teach computer systems to become EXPERT. Limited , naturally by your 'expertise'. They say you can even teach the computer to 'learn '. But you surely cannot teach the computer to realise that it has "learnt too much", "too little " and maybe "its all a waste of time". This is not to belittle those that dedicate their waking hours to research on developing an artificial brain.

Our body and brain manage a sort of self repair , triggered by its own checks and balances. To some extent. When was the last time someone repaired your PC while it was on ? Given the HUGEvariety of things the brain can do and control, when was the last time you heard someone undergoing BRAIN REPAIR?

So far there has not been a Brain version 1.2 or whatever. In the meanwhile, one continues to hear about technology becoming obsolete, circuitry disappearing from the market, machines being replaced and updated every now and then, with so called smarter peripherals. And , here within us, there is this wondrous system, that adapts itself so well to a genius as well as a mentally challenged individual; it revels in the various forms of temporary, permanent and not so permamnent memory it holds; sometimes it even remembers its older configurations, as happens when those having an amputated limb often realise, thanks to a "virtual pain" in the severed nerve ends of the amputated limb.

I often wonder about the designer of such a fantastic system. Has to be a Supreme Being. Some call him God. Others pretend there is no such thing. Maybe we need to think of a future when parts of our solar system will have inhabitants; maybe there will be intergalactic solar TV, and in between Saas Bahu serials, and "Apan Hyana pahilat Ka ? " there will be a commercial for a smarter human brain, with a famiiar musical ring saying "Amygdala Inside !"......

Monday, November 06, 2006

Memories of another Pune

(The picture alongside appears on the web page of the Pune Police traffic control branch. No comments)

Every time i return back from Pune, it feels like my childhood comes rushing back to me.

The density of the city has changed beyond imagination, vehicular decibel levels make one wince; one sees a sample of the 'open culture' that seems to be on display amongst the young ones, and one gets the feeling that its a city desperately trying to prove its "up there" with, say Mumbai......

Pune has a certain character; despite the winds of change breezing around, parts of Pune still display that.

I grew up in Pune, went to school there. At a time when people from my area did not attend what were called "convent" schools, 7:45 am every morning would see my younger brother and me, tugging our uniforms, ties and all, lugging our 'suitcases' full of books, trying to make, what was then the 8:05 am 18 number bus , at the S. P. College bus stop. We knew almost everyone we passed on the road. The bus driver, as a matter of habit, would look in the direction from which we would emerge, and sort of wait for us to make the final run. This happened at several bus stops on our way, as so many of our friends got in. We even knew the licence number of the bus. The fare was 10 P each way, and no one ever had a problem of "chutta".

By and by , we changed schools, and I began commuting by a bus to the Ralway station to attend a girls school. It so happened that girl med students studying at the BJ medical college, travelled with us, and we developed a more than nodding aquaintance. I developed a great interest in the books they carried, and my abiding interest in medicine and the practice of it grew out of daily pouring over amazing pictures in grays anatomy. I even remember the names of some of the college girls today, and it certainly helped that their college hostel was next to my school.

Rickshas were then (as now) called rickshas, and not "ricks" or "autos". One did NOT take a ricksha at the drop of a hand. The primary mode of transport was the immortal bicycle, bought after much planning, discussion, deals over bettering oneself in studies,etc, at shops, somewhere behind Shaniwar Wada. The city was dotted with cycle shops, scooters (synonymous with Bajaaj) had not yet appeared .

Exam results were a BIG deal. 11th class was SSC, and results and making the first 30 of the merit list was a GREAT achievement. I remember, year after year, we always knew , who amongst our neighbours was appearing for the SSC exam. There were rumours about scholars, avidly swallowed. Then on a cold clear morning, in the half dark atmosphere, a newspaper boy would come cycling down, shouting out the name of who was first. I remember peering out of the balcony thinking how glamorous it was to know the result before everyone else and announce it like this with so many ears straining to hear, amidst, alarms going off, baths being organised, surya namaskars conducted, and milkmen leading their buffaloes in near houses, to milk them for our daily needs.

I went to college in Pune too; Fergusson College. Because my parents went there. So did my older brother. Those days colleges had characters. SP, in my neighbourhood, was the most conservative. Rumour had it that the head hauled up girls for not wearing bangles. Wadia College near the station was the other extreme. The key word one associated with it was "jam sessions". Fergusson was a golden mean.

It was during this time, that two of my senior girls, joined COEP Pune; and it was supposed to be a sensational thing. What was even more sensational, is that these girls drove Lambretta/vespa scooters to college; I distinctly remember their names, and the sight of them speeding down confidently over what was then a relatively empty J M Road, as they went fro Deccan Gymkhana to college was something one admired.

Where we stayed , near Peshwe Park, was considered 'outside ' the town. Ricksha wallas would haggle about taking us there . Today WE are downtown. Going to Main Street in camp (M. G. Rd) was a huge thing. Everyone there wore frocks, and rock-and-roll shoes, spoke in English, and iI remember being absolutely mortified when I was walking with my mother dressed in a parkar polka, and ran into a classmate called Darius Cooper coming in the opposite direction with his mother. Both mothers had a more than cordial chat, Mrs Cooper thought my outfit was great, and Darius and I pretended not see each other. (Today, while "camp" has clearly lost its charm, folks wearing nine yard sarees confidently wander around, accompanying grandchildren clamouring for corn bhel, ice cream, and other goodies)

The Bhaji mandi in the city was where my mother shopped once a week for fruits. In those days we had a green Hillman Minx car. What was even more amazing was that my mother drove it everywhere; sometimes with her Vanita Samaj members. Ladies driving cars was an event. Driving through small side streets was even more impressive. And my mother often followed the dictum, "when in doubt, honk". Even so, todays drivers, are not a patch on her, maruti or otherwise.

She was well known amongst the fruit merchants, as she had a thing about fresh orange juice , in those non-electric-juicer, non mixer/blender days. Years of accompanying her have fine-honed my haggling abilities. On a recent visit to get fruits for my ailing father, I recalled the name of one of the fruit sellers from those days, and was delighted to meet him, quietly keeping an eye on his merchandise, as his grandson did the daily nitty gritty work. He remarked on my facial resemblance to my mother, commented on her excellence in judging a good fruit, enquired after my brothers (he knew they were in "amrika"), charged me market rates, presented my daughter with a complimetary pomegranate, and crowned the whole interlude with a saying from Sant Tukarams verses, that had to do with "judging" something, presumably in my late mothers honour.

I was stunned with the level of education in this gentleman.

Pune is full of people of this type. There are special interest lectures taking place all the time, all seriously attended and applauded, at times, questioned and commented upon. There are more fearless people in Pune per square kilometre than anywhere else, I think. Broadening of the mind through such activities, continues in Pune, despite the onslaught of TV, Cable, Movies, Blockbusters, Internet, DVD players, and all kinds of technology.

Waves of globalisation keep hitting Pune. Sometimes they crash and quietly dissipate over some area. Sometimes a solid rock of intellect will deflect this wave back. Fashions have changed. Norms have changed even more. On the surface , Pune appears to have changed.

Deep down however, like the earths crust, the solidity of Pune endures.

One still runs into small business owners, who have been at it for decades, and they recgnise you and talk to you about how bad Pune is today. Sometimes even an aged rickshawlla will shake his head and comment on the police.

Today Pune is overrun with two wheelers, and 3 whelers. Bajaaj is like black and white TV. Hondas rule. Kinetics sweep across. Immigration from he outlying villages has been replaced with immigration from other states. Hindi accented Marathi is the norm, in places like Tulshibaag. The grandsons of the milkman (who came with his buffaloes to deliver milk in our schooldays) today run a fast food set up . Many flyovers and traffic lights interrupt what used to be our peaceful trip to our school. That of course brings in the police.

Tail Piece : Recently , on Bajirao Rd, a Tow truck appeared and started lifting two wheelers , which were parked, in, it seems, a no parking zone. Police brandishing their power, canes and all. Till someone noticed that a police motorcycle was parked in a no parking zone, the vehicle was not part of the monitoring group. And the tow truck, simply bypassed this vehicle.

Well. Folks rushed over from teashops across the road, argued and pointed this anomaly to the police. The first response was a typical careless, powerful, wave of hand. The crowd swelled. many of them women, having parked two wheelers. Till someone, a girl, quietly let the air out of the tow truck tyres, as well as the ignored police twowheeler. all this while the uniformed folks were making a show of strenghth, calling re-enforcements and all.

How do I know all this ? it was all over the local papers, the next day.

No political party instigated this. It was simply too much for the standard Puneite to tolerate. And the police, probably Puneites, knew that.


Pearls, Pearls and more Pearls from

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Brangelina in Amche Pune

Bustling monsoon morning in Pune. This year the rain has stretched into October, bringing apprehensions of a wet Divali, thanks to Global Warming, designed maybe, to prohibit bursting of crackers, (a form of golbal warming, some say. ) . Unlike Mumbai, (and like me :-) ) , Pune cools down after a shower.

Between sips of nice ginger tea, sitting with one leg over the threshhold, newspaper in her lap, glasses sliding down her nose, my elderly aunt massages her tired knees, and wants to know "Who is this this Brangelina they keep writing so much about. And whats so great about their taking a ricksahw to travel in Pune ?"

Fed up as I am, of using the adjective, global, to describe stuff,
I sort of hesitate a bit before trying to explain things to my elderly aunt.

'Why have they come now ? They should have come during Ganpati and Navratri; there is so much stuff to see', she asked. "And , the best way to see every thing is really on foot, dont you think ?" she adds.

I can just see Pitt and Jolie , gulal on their faces, one kid on Pitts shoulders, one on Jolie's, trying to hold their handycams steady as the ganpati procession whirls about them on Laxmi Rd. Some one from the outlying villages, visiting pune for the Ganpati immersion day, sort of sneaks into place next to Brad, pulls a little girl up front, and says, "Zara Sarkoon Ghya ." Just then vada pav vendor, plugging his extra chutney- jumbosize -special- vadapavs slithers past giving Jolie a whiff of what our desi hamburger is all about. "Char rupaya, dus ka teen " and he gives Brad a special look, expecting him to say, 'Theek ahe. Chutney zyada." Then Brad pulls out a 100 rupee note, ("Can you believe it, just two dollars ? Wow."). The vadapav guy's mouth opens to almost the size of his vadas. "Kai Bhau, udya pachshechi dyaal; zara sutte Dya ki..." ; and Pitt, in the best traditions of the society he belongs to, makes the vada pav guy fall into a complete daze when he says "umm. Just keep the change fella".......

Agobai. Bhaltach.

Reports say that Pitt and Jolie spent an entire day moving around Pune in a ricksha. ( I mean, this is absolutely , well...., the pits. )

They fly in , in a private aircraft; Mercedes vans meet them on the tarmac , and they go in and out of their hotel through the basement garage. Guys move around with walkie talkies alerting each other to every consecutive step taken by the duo, and all they could get was a ricksha ? Pune Police are supposed to be taking extra care of the situation, and the entire security cavalcade contains the mandatoy police jeep.

So heres this ricksha, with "Aai tujha ashirwaad" painted on its back, rain - side-curtains flapping in the wind, whizzing through posh areas of Pune, with Pitt and Jolie totally aghast at the willfull breaking of all traffic rules, sudden 360 degree turns, holding on to the railing behind the rickshawalla for dear life, and Bunty aur Babli playing full blast as background score on the ricksha speakers, and a whole bunch of suited and booted stiff upper lip British security guys following , totally perplexed in a convoy of armored cars, not to forget, our friendly pune police pandu havaldars making up the rear, posing in their sunglasses , whistles, nosemasks in their Maruti Gypsy.....

The latest is that her children are about to visit the Katraj Snake Park, and every newspaper has despatched reporters to pester the Khaires who run the park, and know nothing about this impending visit. In fine Pune tradition, the Brangelina kids will be made as welcome, as say , my cousin's nephews who are also planning to visit at the same time. Of course the inability of the snakes to take cognisance of global visitors and icons is a definite plus.

How do you explain Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to may aunt , someone who retired from her job as a primary school teacher; she walked 3 miles everyday to work, saved every penny she could, so she could educate her two children, and give them a decent start in life ? When she retired, careless processing on the part of the authorities delayed her pension by 8 months, which she spent running, sorry, trudging , from pillar to post, getting her papers to move fast, ignoring those who suggested that money would make things move faster ? How do you explain "Brangelina" stuff to someone who actively worries about the state of the cities roads and corruption today, and writes letters to editors, and participates in volunteer groups in the city.? I mean, why get carried away over their travelling everywhere with their kids ? Like she says "We do it all the time, there is no alternative. "

To her, its like one more movie to ignore; not that any of the movies today are a patch on Shyamchi Aai, Umbartha, Jait re Jait, Gulacha Ganpati and the likes.

Pune is in a tizzy because of the visit of these two American icons, for the shooting of a movie based on the life and death of Daniel Pearl. Apparently it was to be filmed in Karachi. some crew, predictably from India, were denied visas, and so Pune was chosen, and parts of Aundh , made to look like Karachi.

Every vernacular paper in Pune has photos on Page 1, showing all kinds of security folks hovering over someone purported to be Brad Pitt. In a compeletely 'me too' fashion, these newspapers, who till recent days, specialised in reporting very ordinary happenings in large red color headlines across 6 columns , now report hour by hour movements of the couple and their 3 children , all of whom are supposed to be staying at the Hotel Meridien in Pune. In the fine tradion of "Billary" , newpapers keep talking about "Brangelina " with levels of familiarity that would imply they actually grew up playing marbles with her/him.

Maybe this is what globalisation does to people. A city , fed up with corruption, the state of its roads, the posturing of its leaders, the deafness of those who are supposed to have their ears to the ground, constant news items of terrorist encounters, selective blindness of those up there, farmers suicides, the rising prices .... so much more.

Sometimes Brangeline fiction provides a breath of fun.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Middle class perceptions of threat

" Police mulling over increasing security cover for XYZ and ABC"- something that comes in the paper frequently.

In place of XYZ and ABC substitute the name of anyone from the industrial-bollywood-political complex. The infinite combination of names is enough to make the common middle class Indian cower , busy as he is, shielding himself from droughts, bomb blasts, floods, landslides, taxes, job losses, medical bills, school and college admissions and so on.

According to psychologist Daniel Gilbert of Harvard, the main features of a threat perception are , that they are a product of human intention, they violate our moral sensibilities, they represent an immediate problem, and they appear suddenly or grow rapidly.

By this definition, the bomb blasts qualify. If we interpret human intention as global warming, even the floods and droughts qualify. The farmer suicides violate my moral sensibilities. Those people who sell drugs are then also a threat on all four counts. The kings of corruption also force themelves into consideration , whether its being done with finesse or blatant disregard, like they do for educational admissions sometimes. Land sharks, who sell shanty glamour to those smitten by the lights of Mumbai, exploit their tenants, and kill any decent human beings who try to help, are to me, the highest form of threat .

Maybe its just me who percieves these as threats. Its probably just a middle class way of looking at things.

And so we have leaders who refuse to step out without 35 policemen , rifles-ready, distributed in 4 cars , that buzz around everywhere the leader wants to go. An actor wants to attend a felicitation for being a brand ambassador of something that costs a few lakhs (" a pittance , you know"), and our diligent law enforcement agencies rush in to enhance protection. A general gradation of protection, ensures that someone or the other always hankers for extra stuff. Its like a child who played tennis-ball cricket being shown a season ball ; getting it , then becomes paramount.

The question is , does the common man like you and me fit in anywhere?

What about the perception of threat faced by young girls residing in slums ? What about the perceptions of threat faced by a new bride, who is constantly berated for not bringing in sufficient dowry ? What about the very high perception of threat , faced by senior citizens staying alone ? What about the very real perception of threat faced by a woman found expecting a female child , and being forced to do something about it ?

What about the perception of threat by a student , reeling under the pressure of obtaining a successful result in an examination, and having doubts about the outcome ? What about the perception of threat by a young girl, who has spurned unwelcome advances , and faces disfigurement by acid, because of criminal gutless behaviour on the part of a maladjutsed youth ?

Have we done anything about this?

Yes. We have seen Terrorism at its worst. Visible enhanced police presence for some who are more equal than others seems to be the way we handle the problem. And , while in some cases this may be the most sensible solution, in many cases its a knee-jerk reaction where we fail to analyse why the person is considered a target in the first place.

Time was when , in those enchanting televisionless days, as kids, we saw Panditji unfurling the Flag, when they showed the Independence day celebrations in the Indian News Revew, in cinema halls. He stood tall , proud, and imposing ,in solitary splendour and every schoolkid was so impressed. Today, any school kid can identify the tall smart people standing dispersed amongst the crowd on the dias, eyes darting, sometimes staring straight ahead, but looking elsewhere, hands on their pockets.

There was just one man, who feared none; probably faced threats, but percieved none; and he led us to our Independence, along with many like him. He faced bullets. I wonder what he would have thought of us, close to 60 years down the line .

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Strike when the city is hot............

We, in the city of Mumbai, are uniquely blessed.

This must be the only city in the world, where the government plays a leading part in building up the character and guts of the people. Reminds me of stories where children are made to do obstacle races , and folks in the armed forces do tough boot camps , all in the name of "toughening up". Ever since womens issues have been highlighted the world over, we must be the only country, where hardship training for women is conducted, perennially, thanks to the various transport systems.

We have a unique city layout, long and mean. The folks who end up working the hardest often end up staying furthest away from their workplaces. Some of them take several modes of transport to work. The government doesnt want any of them to miss out on the character and physique building. So roads are dug up, year after year, by specialised diggers, so that those taking buses home can learn the fine art of balance and gender issues. An additional bonus, is that this throws the bus timetable out of gear, and they get crowded abnormally. Not to worry. They always wanted to give combat training to the women. This way they dont have to spend any extra time on it. A high level study trip to Israel showed some other methods, but we prefer these.

Just in case buses are NOT your cup of tea, we have trains with windows , where you get to practice the fine art of dodging stuff targeted by those indulging in target practice from outside; except this is a target moving at high speed. . Good for neck mobility. You will never get spondilytis, thanks to all those thoughtful netas who encourage people to live defiantly by the tracks. No parks near your house ? Why worry ? Fighting your way through a railway compartment to get out at a station, and running down railway bridges with worn out slippery steps, all to catch the train that will start moving in 5 seconds, will give you a new high, mentally as well as physically. Whats a little fracture here and there ?

Globalisation is here. It means less local stuff, and more global stuff. Designating a sister city to Mumbai is important stuff. High level types need to go study sewage treatment in, say, Venice. Its all that water flowing around, you see. They have gondolas. We have navy boats in Kalina . Inspiring , na ?

In the meanwhile, even nature conspires to help out the authorities. Year after year, the rains comes crashing down. Of course the authorities have washed their hands off all that high tides-and-floods stuff. Like the Tennyson chap said, tides may come and tides may go, but WE go on forever. People must learn . Its all part of the hardship education. Manhole covers , designed to be detachable, are a brilliant choice for introducing a surprise element in this water hardship training. All this water panic also ensures that the police on duty are unable to go home, simply as they cannot travel . Built in vigilance training. Wah ! , Someone who got stuck on 26/7 in 2005, decided to learn swimming and paid a thousand rupees to learn. If only she had waited till this year. She could have learned it in a very natural manner, while travelling to work and back, for FREE..

Actually, the government must be applauded for even thinking of students. It ensures that despite the age of IT, students get to practice hardship, thanks to hanging websites, changing timetables, late result declarations, and a general cattle herding, fee grabbing approach to new admissions. Your child in school ? He needs to carry a few more books to streghthen his spine, so they have now introduced more tests. Dont want spineless youth, do we ?

If those up there, point the way, can others be far behind?

So we have government agencies, like nationalised banks and incometax office people climbing on to the hardship training bandwagon. They take care of the mental toughening of the people of Mumbai.

So just when people are still reeling from grevious losses, personal, monetary, and otherwise, the IT folks did their bit. First they had ads where they said, file your tax or we will catch you . (Its all designed to shake up those of us, who thought we could gradually deal with the recent catstrophe and then deal with the IT deadline of July 31. ) The IT wallas will Strike, not attend office, as they are unhappy about some rules , which were probably made long ago.

They have now inspired our Banks, also to declare a strike. A token one day strike , that incidentally happens to append to a weekend. But the timing is a class act in introducing a new hardship concept for people. Your salary comes, but you dont get to use it. And never mind the days lost working because of the floods, the blasts, the injuries. Its so important that retiring bank employees get the correct pension scheme. everything else can wait.

Its called 'Striking when the City is Hot".

strike : v. m : to hit .
hot : adj m: angry

Friday, July 14, 2006

Resilience in the time of Rudeness

Words have specific meanings. Words like Spirit. Resilience. Coming from the mouths of those whose entire career is based on buying and selling of human votes and emotions, they almost sound like abuse.

For years together, its been a pattern. Grandiose plans are made to safeguard people. Committees with names and unpronouncable acronyms are established. The head of the committee, his prestige doesnt depend on what good work he does, but whether he has a car with a flashing light and a siren, and a police constable hanging on for dear life to the car. Meetings are held. No one talks of any expenditures less than several hundred crores. Lips are licked in anticipation of being designated a supplier of stuff to the office. Networks buzz overtime . Maharashtra asks. The centre reduces, or sometimes, even refuses.

We have heard for years that the police force needs to be augmented . They dont have money for it. Statues in the sea are more important. Statues in parks are even more important. They feel no shame withdrawing police from after-hours duty in the ladies compartment of trains, and putting them on security detail at railway stations, post the blast. Why the security detail could not be drawn from all those politicians who are granted X,Y and Z+ security (for their families as well), is not clear. What is clear is that families of these folks need complicated security, so they can drive and spend relaxing time at the various posh coffeeshops and restaurants and malls around town.

Why should a train carrying working women, returning home after a crushing day at the office, not looking forward to a two hour crowded commute, cutting vegetables in the train to save time, be given protection from predating males , who have traumatised and maimed so many women in an about to be empty comaprtment, in the recent past? These guardians of our law and order , prefer to morally police us. Energy is expended in banning bar dancers, slapping court cases on your political rivals, and basically forgetting the people who put you there in the first place.

The recent blasts in mumbai, proved all over again, that we dont really need a government in Maharashtra. When the crunch comes, the people of mumbai are absolutely capable of taking care of themselves, and whats more , others. Within an hour of the blast, the various injured were well on their way to hospitals , if not actually already admitted. The "aam janata" came out on to the highways and arterial roads to stop vehicles, and request them to take passengers in their cars, those folks that were stuck miles away from their houses due to the blasts. Entire building societies chipped in with blankets , food stuff and transport; the slumdwellers who may not know if they will have a house next week, ran out with bedsheets for transporting patients, and climbed into the train to extricate the casualties, using whatever little they had at hand. College students returning home, found out that they could help the police control the traffic and keep things a bit more organised.

And people who I cant classify (and wont classify) under any category but saviours, even stood out in the rain handing water bottles, tea, hot snacks , food packets and even simple accomodation , to those people returning home from work, standing for miles together , crushed in a bus, because their train was blown up, and others were stopped; and those unknown folks who stayed on at hospitals , contacting relatives, comforting the hurt till some family member turned up.

They did this in the recent floods, and now the blasts. And they will do it again, beacuse its ingrained. (Readers Digest , please note: one cannot learn this, like eg, saying thank you, wishing others, holding open doors . Some of the folks we are talking about , dont even have a door, forget holding it open. Some get all embarrased if you say thank you to them, and almost feel insulted. And i cant think of a more useless thing to do than say "Nice day, isnt it?", while hanging on to 5 square inches of an open door in a moving train, trying to avoid torrential rain, or a burning summer day. )

That is what one calls the spirit. Resilience is the ability to keep on showing this spirit, blast after blast, flood after flood, carnage after carnage, one inefficient shameless government after another.

Our so called elected representatives dont need to waste their time passing resolutions in the legislature, when they should actually be amidst the people who elected them , trying to make their lives a bit more tolerable. Announcing Rs 50,000 dole to those injured, and Rs 1 Lakh to those dead , is not the end of the responsibility. The government should ensure that money needed for special medicines for the blast patients is directly paid to the municipal and state hospitals. Relatives of patients shouldnt have to trudge in and out of hospital buying medicines written up by doctors. The Railways, also announce a monetary compensation. I can just see a bunch of unscrupulous ears perking up and hands being rubbed in glee by people who see a great source of income , on the side in all this, ensuring that papers move.

And there needs to be a rule that only the Prime Minsiter and /or Home minister can come and visit the scene of the catastrophe. Seeing a politician holding your hand, and mouthing inane nothings, has nothing to do in improving your vital signs like heart beat, blood pressure, etc. For them its a photo opportunity. A Khota opportunity , if you really want to know. And all those cars that swish into the hospital porch , supposedly as security detail for the politicians, simply end up splashing monsoon dirt on those waiting outside, not knowing if someone is dead or alive, and what direction their life will take from now on.

So those in power need to stop commenting on Mumbais spirit and resilience. It sounds like a convenient thing in the mouths of the parasitic, moneyvorous people in power. It almost sounds like abuse , from the mouths of those that know not what it really means.

Learn something from the one man, who despite being elected , has never been a politician , and despite being elected by a party, has never really belonged to it.

Dr Manmohan Singh, the PM. Three days after the blast, he and his wife paid a visit to the hospitals . One patient, with one leg and one arm fractured , sat up to salute him. Those with visceral burn injuries tried to give a hint of a smile , so pleased they were to see him. Patients couldnt stop talking about the empathy that radiated from the man and his good wife as they made their rounds, quietly reassuring people, strong and firm. Then he got on television and sent a no nonsense message acrross the border, with no sparing of words.

Governing in Maharashtra is all about squabbling and power, and talking rot. And , of course , making money . These guys dont deserve an electorate like the people of Mumbai.

Mumbai has the SPIRIT and RESILIENCE despite them.

It will continue to have it, irrespective of blasts, floods, carnages, and moneyvorous politicians.

And never mind those guys who declared us the rudest people on earth.

(Maybe they simply looked at our politicians. Eat you words, Readers digest. ).

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Tall Wall

I am not a cricket fanatic. i dont spout statistics at the drop of a hat. God knows, leg , to me is an antomical part and not a field area, and I realise that a point has several intriguing properties, but being silly is not one of them.

However, as a inhabitant of Mumbai, (where road traffic is a function of the crisis level in a test match being played thousands of miles away, as well as the batting of a Tendulkar or Dhoni,) throughout the last several cricket series, there is something that has stood out in all its shining glory.

Rahul Dravid.

Here is a guy who thinks . Thinks before reacting. Came up the hard way. Rose through the ranks. Became a Senior; but when they asked him to keep wickets, chipped in with a sincere effort, while the then captain enjoyed this buy -one -batsman-get one- wicketkeeper- free , facilty. There is a no- nonsense air about him. Its all about the team, and individual idiosyncracies have no place in his scheme of things. His system of leadership doesnt appear to be conducive to chamchagiri. You are given a chance to play, and a sincere intelligent effort is appreciated. You mess around , and someone else gets a chance. Its all about whats good for the team.

Dravid captains in a manner where one tends to always look up to him. Not for the glamour, nor the sound bites. But good solid knocks. Almost ALWAYS, when ever the team is in trouble, he appears at the crease, patiently piling on the runs while trying to keep the wickets intact, inspiring the player at the opposite end. Showing them how its done. He NEVER throws his wicket away, and you never hear about how pressures of captaincy are affecting the angle of swing or straightness of his bat. You never see him muttering, mouthing curses at the opposition, glaring people down. Yes, he is human, and occasional falshes of anger on and off the field are to be expected. Steve Waugh is thrilled that Dravid agrees to write a preface to his book, and after losing the Test series, Lara, selects Dravid to lavish all his praise on.

And he doesnt remove and wave his shirt; Thats just not cricket. The most one has seen him do is hold the ball up and run across the field as if in a trance , while claiming a wicket , sometime during Englands tour on India 2006. He plays mentor to those younger and newer; he doesnt create situations where there is an element of "neta giri". Even Greg Chappel appears to have nothing bad to say about him, as he makes his measured responses to queries. The coach probably cannot hide his own delight in being given a captain like this, as straight as the front face of the bat he presents to difficult balls. Cant find anything bad to say. Not about his cricket, nor about his man-management on and off the field.

He has a lfe off the field. He keeps it there. He studied when he had to study as a youngster. Did well. The studiousness has bred in him an innate curiosity about cultures and places different from his, as something to learn from. He is a keen observer of the history of any country that he visits as part of his cricket tours. He is constantly learning. While in Pakistan he made it a point to go visit Mohenjodaro and Harrappa sites. He actively campaigns for and takes part in AIDS eradication campaigns, after learning details about the problem from his wife , who is a surgeon.

He does commercial ads, and most of them non controversial. Keeps his family away from it all. You never see pictures of him hob nobbing with social butterflies, dancing away in discotheques, with groups of dubious people, flaunting style. No one has ever linked him with vague actresses, and no one ever hears of members of his family , various government types etc , commenting on the facets of cricket selection, play and treatment in India.

Young people unconsciously search for role models. Some appear fleetingly on the horizon, flashing across with the help of fawning publicists, and favoured journalists. Some are pillars of cricket but midgets when it comes to their non cricketing ways.

Somehow one feels reassured, that in a world full of Beckhams, Maradonas and such, found later on to be made of clay, so to speak, Dravid stands tall, a completely outsatnding role model for Indian children and older youth today.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Shame in the time of west indies........

This last week has been a sports buffet of sorts. Take a few slices of BeckHam and Rooney, add a few chopped Nadals, Federers and Henins, garnish with Clisters; a few slices of Roddick and Sharapova, stir and let cook. Serve with a side dish of Bravo Salad, and Dravidian Shrikhand........

Long haired chaps going ballistic over a ball in Berlin. The audience in a "vilambit alaap" with their lips mouthing an "O", waving their arms around as if to bless their own teams. Big grown up chaps in a frenzied game, sliding, kicking, pumping their fists and occasionally making a goal. The way the players behave on field, one feels its not just adrenaline, but maybe a sparkling variety of it is cruising through their veins.

And then there is another set of chaps whipping rackets at each other as a ball just grazes the white line in Paris. If you dont have the strength, as it happens, sometimes, with the women, a grunt will do. And so you have endless amazing volleys, stretching the limbs as well as your imagination. Since the days of John Mcenroe, on field tantrums , though not absent today, have taken on a slightly civilized veneer, and are judged harshly. The seat Umpire is his/her own third umpire. Well, Federer just lost out on receiving another Cow. Last time he won a grand slam title, the Swiss canton from which he hails, presented him with a superior quality Swiss Cow. Merci Beaucoup. Wonder what Nadal will get now.

And then we have our chaps in the West Indies. Doing very well one might say. And then you have Brian Lara; if I were him . I'd be ashamed of myself; if I were BCCI, I would be even more ashamed of myself.

Dhoni is at the crease. He hits. Some guy messes up, or appears to mess up/not mess up a catch at the boundary line. So the 3rd umpire is called in. He watches the television replay, and he watches.... and he watches ... and he watches. Cannot make up his mind. So what happens ?

Brian Lara. Goes up to Dhoni and tries his Dadagiri. (Even our ex-team Dada, who is NOT one of my favourite people, never did Dadagiri of this type.) Larabhai, (and it hurts to call you bhai), ITS JUST NOT CRICKET.

Dhoni refuses to budge till an official result is declaredby the umpires. 13 people on the field, and 3 guys cannot make up their mind about what happened. Failure of technology, followed by failure of common sense.. Fifteen minutes of something that should have never happened. Fifteen mintes that evoked very strong reactions, except from people directly associated with the game, in a broader sense. The captain CANNOT suddenly be the judge; worse still, declare so himself. The smartest thing to do under the circumstances would be for the 3 umpires to declare that ball null and void and pretend it never happened and play it again, thus allowing both teams to vent their angers and insecurities in the way they should be vented: on the field, in the spirit of the game.

Dravid takes the decent way out. He declares, thinking he was going to do so anyway. A diplomats way out, in a world full of Dada's.

And what happens? Sehwag is fined for appealing too loudly.(Apparently 15 degree bent arms are ONLY seen on the subcontinent. Simlarly, ICC should now define the pitch and decibel level and continent, of objectionable appeals) The ICC treats Brian Lara like you treat a small child who accidently spilled hot milk (and doesnt matter who got scalded). . And the BCCI, the high Oracle of all things cricket in India, who should have protested the intimidation of Dhoni at the crease, is as quiet as a cat; a cat that is licking its lips in anticipation of more matches , and more earnings; and to the hell with the players. Its like DROP ONE, GET ONE FREE.

Brian Lara, who is often held in the same esteem in the world as Sachin Tendulkar has just fallen several notches, andthat too, badly. Think of all the times Sachin was given what is called "Khota out" (False out). Amazingly fake LBW's that had the knowledgeable man on the Indian roads seething. He walked. Did not talk. Either to his partner at the crease, or the umpires , or the bowler or whoever. Then he came back in the next innings , and played to show how cricket is actually played.

When we were children, whenever we did something wrong, the elders used to say that God will punish us. We believed it then. I still think it holds true. Look at Brian Lara's score in the West Indies innings.

Makes you think. Hope it makes Brian Lara think; (when he gets the time from thinking of Trinidad and Tobago in the World Cup , while getting messages about it from players in the pavillion); no wonder he is behaving like the football types).....
To know about Plaques, click plaques