Monday, December 03, 2007

The unbearable delight of being Sachin.....

No one I know is universally loved. Give me a person, and i will show you someone who cant bear the sight of his face, the sound of his voice, his batting stance, his fielding gaffes, his wasteful bowling or whatever is anatomically or otherwise disturbing.

Watch cricket audiences. In the living room, public halls, roadsides, and stadiums.

The Indian people have amazingly unexplainably strong opinions about the team. Fairly strong and postive, and sometimes equally strong and negative. A hand banged on the head seeing someone brought in to bowl; a refusal to sit and watch thoughtlessly aggressive bowling, lacking finesse and cunning, advice to the captain playing 1000 miles away, reserved opinions about some controversial players, however great...

And in all this, there is one person, who, if you think about it, is , to put it simply, universally loved.

And it is very very clear that this guy is unique.

Idle chatter in the dressing room dies out as he takes his stance. People doing multitasking in front of the TV, go into single task/watching mode as if not to distract the batsmen. Mothers in kitchens, about to roll the 15th phulka, turn down the flame, and appear in the doorway, wiping hands on their palloos, sure that they are going to want to applaud; little folks, pretending to do homework in the next room, defiantly suddenly appear in the living room for undefined reasons, and their father pretends not to notice. Bus conductors delay giving change as some guy in a heavily packed bus, gives the general public an update, and even those, with partial hearing thanks to aging, make the great effort to turn a shaking neck, sometimes in a collar, a toothless indulgent smile indicating their great interest in hearing the latest about the exploits of this wonderful"boy"....

Several hearts miss beats as he , with middle age on the horizon, takes his time deciding how to despatch which ball.

He misses something, and the collective tsk-tsk implies that they understand, and the nation is convinced it is a wide or a no ball.

A matter-of-fact lbw appeal against him, irrespective of the decibel level, has in recent times, probably made some umpires marked men in the eyes of the nation. Big grown men talk about "Khota out" , and shake their heads in the same way they would when they hear of some massive crime being committed somewhere.

An entire country telepathically makes an effort willing a third umpire to declare him not-out.

An angry nation focussing its eyeballs on the errant bowler.

Statisticians get busy trying to figure out which new record he is about to break.

Every single time the man has gone out to bat, everyone expects him to reach 3 digits and then some. Every time he strikes, despatching balls to the ropes with a flourish, the stadium goes into brownian motion , as if jumping up and down saying "we told you so!"; and every single time he has missed that by a whisper, no matter how thick, the audience goes ominiously silent. 50,000 people, feeling for him, wishing things were'nt so, standing forelornly in support of the amazing talent of one man.

Entire stadiums asymptotically quieten down to a whisper , as he looks at the umpire, glances at his partner at the other end, and starts the trudge back to the stadium.

Not just talent, but his entire way of conducting himself.

He lives in the thick of Bollywood, In the same building as Aishwarya Rai did . She probably considered herself lucky.

One never heard of him, even when he was younger, performing at discos and stuff in the company of the opposite sex, or traipsing in and out of fancy places at unearthly hours, with haircuts and companions that changed monthly in length and colour. Which is not to say that he never had his wild days. He probably did. We just never heard.

Older and bigger masters, still call him Little master, only the operative word is now "master". When unduly and greatly incised about a decision, he will simply look at the umpire, never glare in defiance, and then he will walk back , determinedly to the pavillion, trying to think what he needs to do to avoid such a situation again.

Give him the ball, and you can actually see the twinkle in his eye, and something ticking in his brain, as he thinks about how to fool the batsmen into thinking that the ball is something its not going to be.

A wicket is rewarded with a face crinkled with child like glee, and a pumping of fists, which every small child of India interprets a way of saying "pakad liya !" No running around with bird like postures, or walking down the pitch with threatening faces saying "nikal ja" ....its plain and simple.

In a world where folks in the slips allow their reaction times to slip, by virtue of their reputations with the bat, he fields and runs deep, and when he has participated in catching out a legend who is in his last match, the little master runs in all the way to the pitch to shake his hand, one great man applauding another. Steve Waugh would know about that.

And he has been missing centuries lately.

He moves on. Thats life.

And while folks in Australia who should know better, start all this talk about footwork , and preparing game plans for him, he will probably do what is little son advised him.

Hit a massive six when on 94.....

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jubilees of the bovine kind

(Cows of IIT grazing outside CSE dept
before KRESIT happened)

Inhabiting a verdant green landscape for most of your working life changes the colour of the glasses through which you view life. All through one's working life one has interacted with the bovine population, like rest of Mumbai interacts with the four wheeler variety, three wheeler variety, and sometimes the two legged variety.

Back in the middle seventies, we were not yet a "brand". There were no real "show" standards. Twenty five years of sweaty summers, heavy monsoons, combined with vague maintenance, had converted the corridors to a dripping labyrinth, where students with uncombed hair, mismatched "hawai" chappals, missed breakfasts, forgotten umbrellas, and unsubmitted assignments, hurried , sometimes late for classes; more so, as they encountered an angry buffalo, head down, horns pointed straight ahead, sauntering towards them with single minded dedication.

I mean, constantly chewing the cud amidst the greenery, traipsing long distances, to meet up with other buffaloes and cows , exchanging notes about pesky troublesome dogs, and newly cleared , now unavailable, green patches on campus, can get a trifle boring.

If you are of the bovine kind, that is.

Suddenly folks started noticing us. Visitors increased. Every now and then we would see the advent of a high tech anti cow/buffalo device. We have several gates , which I suspect , exist for the sole purpose of closing at odd times, so people can jump over them. Several such gates , at a non trivial cost were modified with, what I was told is a Buffalo deterrent grill. A metal grill fixed on the road , in which the buffalo was supposed to get stuck as it placed its hoof on it. I am not sure whether they have standards for buffaloes. Obviously , a high tech institute has high tech buffaloes with super high-tech feet. One could see several of them routinely strolling over the grill, chewing to themselves, flicking tails at imaginary flies, as they sauntered towards newer department buildings, wondering how long they could outwit the technologists.

Then watchmen were given terribly low tech implements called lathis, and asked to chase errant buffaloes who dared to appear in the path of a "learned" population. The corridor was a favourite arena for driving them out. But I also remember the time, in the middle seventies, when the keepers of our security, stood in polished splendour, as an Ambassador car drove through the corridor from Chemical Engg to Central Library, carrying some Russian dignitaries, who probably could not wait to see the Russian mainframe we were using them. Students , employees and cows, often the target of shoo-ing security, stood by in stunned , open mouthed disgust.

Then there was the time, when a huge herd of buffaloes and cows, had just about had it, wandering for greens and running from lathis, and just sat down , in the middle of the road that runs from the main gate, and turns at the guest house. It was very impressive, cows coming home at dusk, and resting their tired bodies, fairly invisible in the frequently failing electric road lights, as two legged and two-wheeler types dodged around them. It was almost as if they were having a meeting.

Well, that's what happens when they inhabit an academic institute. Mindsets change.

No amount of lathi based cajoling worked, giving a well deserved victory to the original inhabitants of the campus.

Life has become tough since then. Leopards have threatened their space. The bovine society is alarmed over the attacks on its members in the black of the night. Like they heard on TV as they grazed in the semidarkness outside some flats at Hillside, crime in Mumbai has increased. A sign of the times.

So it was with great wonder that i noticed this cool November morning, around sunrise, a hefty buffalo, sitting is solitary splendour in the well appointed, landscaped grounds of the Kanwal Rekhi School of IT, nonchalantly chewing away, with nary a look at the several security types, trying to make it get up and leave. A great image opportunity after 50 years of combat between the two legged and four legged types. And the location was perfect. High Tech, meets low-take.

A raised lathi, and a tentative abusive command elicited a disdainful sneeze, a dismissive look from heavily lidded eyes, a flick of the tail at a pesky fly, and the animal continued its rumination, probably contemplating ,on the next paper it would publish in the Bovine Annals of Technology titled, "Making it to the golden jubilee : reminences of the bovine kind......."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

management by obstruction

No, that is not the title of the latest book by Peter F. Drucker or C. K. Pralhad.

Its my realization of a new theory after observing things around me.

Mr Drucker hit the nail on the head when he said things like , "“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work”, or "Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven't".

Accompanying an elderly illiterate pensioner to open a bank account in one of India's nationalized banks, in a decently big city, in bank premises studded with LCD screens, banners, snaking queues of people at counters manned by folks preening about passwords, I was aghast to hear that the elderly gent was supposed to have PAN card before he could appear as a record in their database. The attitude of the lady sitting under a sign saying "may I help you", was anything but. Here was a guy, whose pension did not suffice even for his monthly groceries, and he walked huge distances to save on transportation. And he is supposed to have a PAN card, which, until then , as i understood, was a means of keeping track of tax payers.

I was given the impression that even if the lady , as a special favour , entered our data, the "system" would not create an account unless you had a PAN number. This was followed by a smirk, probably expecting us to be technologically disabled out of fear of what Intel did Inside. The lady was unaware of write rights, screen access rights, and the fact that someone above her could possibly handle a non-PAN case easily . In fact banks have a set procedure for such non-PAN cases, with or without computers. That we went to another bank,, and got the needful done , is another matter.

But it then occurred to me that this was a way for the bank lady to manage her workload. OBSTRUCT people. Create fewer newer accounts. Particularly if it looked like their balance was likely to barely hit 4 digits at the end of the month. Weed out such people. Manage by obstructing undesirables.

Police supervising traffic out on the dug up roads outside IIT also "manage by obstructing". Standing on the side of the road, ever since a cop standing on the divider was hit and injured by a speeding vehicle, they get fatigued waving their arms. Traffic gets regulated by local residents trying to cross the road in one piece. The most dangerous are the easily maneuverable two wheelers. The cops specialise in "obstructing" two wheelers, which are then gently waved to one side, and asked to show their "particulars". Most times some other paper things also change hands. I have stood , aghast, 4 feet away and watched, mouth open, only to get a diesel fume blast in my face from a passing truck. Serves me right, I suppose. Who am I to "obstruct" these going ons. The cops continue to "manage by obstruction". Reduces the two wheeler congestion. Yes. Of course.

This was absolutely brought home to me, when i visited the rationing office for a modification to my ration card. After peering through various windows suffering from fading signage, and getting appropriate entries made here and there, i was asked to go round the back and present the stuff to someone for their exquisite illegible signature, which completed the process.

At a three feet wide door above 3 broken cement steps (without a landing , naturally, to obstruct folks from standing there ), there loomed an officer of the law. He stood with one foot down and one foot stretched out in front, resting on the other side of the door, in the finest demonstration of "obstruction" I had ever seen.

"Yes ?" a query and a bored look.

"I need a signature from XYZ" followed by a look at the "obstructed" door.

I was kind of debating whether to hurl myself over the "hurdles" in the finest P T Usha tradition, or bend and sneak in .

An elderly gent inside took the decision away from me. He cleared his throat. The "obstruction" was lowered. I sailed in while the officer of the law pretended he wasn't there in the first place.

One may "manage by obstruction". Ever heard of "management by dithering of laryngeal muscles" ?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Thinking out of the b-b-b-box......

Management gurus chortling with glee seeing everyone and every one's friend talking about "thinking out of the box" , obviously never thought of two things .

1. Which box, and of what size.

2. Who is in the box ad who is doing the thinking.

3. How the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, hitherto referred to as MMRDA, would excel at using this concept in unusual ways.

Living in IIT Powai, it's almost like living in a park.

That is, if you forget, having to dodge , disdainfully sneezing cows and bulls, who break into a Pavlovian Gallop in reaction to a two wheeler loudly changing gears in their vicinity, or, monkey families, in defiance of "hum do hamare do" , blithely scampering across trees and building gates, with a greedy eye on a bag of groceries being carried by a stupid human. Pythons and snakes are passe, and these days they spend more time avoiding Indica's and Honda's that seem to have invaded the campus

The main arterial road outside IIT, that connects west to he east is being "redeveloped" and one of the first things they did was to immediately raze to the ground the various convenience shops across the road, in the interests of road widening. The MMRDA, while regretting the "inconvenience", likes to put up boards saying "Please bare with us" with a fine disregard for spelling, and a great tendency for pun, or maybe they think its fun.

I am convinced that the MMRDA , in cahoots with the BMC, has a secret agenda. It is called "thinking out of the box".

The only difference is that those in the box and those thinking are different entities.

The idea is to teach the pedestrians a lesson. They need to "know their place". And how dare they appear on the windscreen of a great man , simultaneously on the wheel and his cell phone, shivering in the air conditioned interiors of his gas guzzling contraption with tinted windows ?

The road belongs to wheels, and NOT to legs.

Why else would they dig "boxes" in the rubble, about 5 feet deep, big enough to hold a person like me, and position them , so close to the road edge, that speeding motorcycles force pedestrians into them? Believe me, slipping into such a "box" while carrying a big watermelon and 2 kg of tomatoes , is not something you wish ,even for your worst enemy.

These "boxes" have been dug every ten feet or so. No sharp edges on the box , but a smooth and fine slide into the nether world is ensured, as you step aside in a hurry to avoid an onslaught of six motorcycles, who have a fetish for overtaking from the left. Helmets are supposed to be for safety. Actually, they are for hiding the drivers face, so you cannot remember them when you complain to the police. One less case to handle. Load reduction for the police. More time for imposing fines. A win-win situation for everyone, except me.

I am sitting in the box, and they think outside it.......:-)

Time was when traffic signals outside schools had some importance. Children, accompanied by retired grandparents and parents crossed the road in large numbers at given times.

That was when the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Mumbai Police decided to "think out of the box". All the boxes for trespassing pedestrians were already dug. And something was needed to bring about improvement in the track and field situation of the country.

So they fixed it so that the pedestrian crossing light would remain on, precisely for seven seconds.

Other countries have the motto of "catch them young". We catch them even old. And so, every morning , you see a gaggle of kindergaarten and primary kids, being escorted by retired grandparents, trying to sprint across a wide expanse of potholed road, trying to adjust school bags, lunch boxes, sun hats and water bottles.

The SAI needs to be applauded for thinking out of the box, in an effort at introducing sprintingand hurdles training for school children. It also reduces the number of potholes the BMC needs to fill, since we need to have natural hurdles. The Mumbai Police have obliged with creative road dividers, all in concrete.

And woe betide anyone who is being taken in an ambulance , anywhere. You need to get in line, even to die.

Maybe, if the road dividers were temporary , they could be shifted, to allow discretionary priority travel for the ambulance. But that is more work for the already burdened police. So you "think out of the box" when BMC suggests concrete road-dividers, and keep silent.

So many folks benefit. The police, the BMC, and the contractor they choose who will magically reappear a few months later to break down the same road divider, as some one with a secret agenda, a not so secret Z-class security, blaring sirens, red lights and open ambitions needs to pass by in a hurry......

There is, on this main arterial road, a Gurudwara, a Masjid and a Mandir. No amount of boxes and thinking out of them appears to have lead to a solution regarding their relocation. They stand in solitary isolation amongst ruins of their old neighbouring shops. No one DARES think about them , either out of the box, or inside it. A box implies boundary conditions. And here , there are no boundary conditions. Just conditions.

In the meanwhile, I have emerged, bloody but unbowed, watermelons, tomatoes and all, from the BOX, after thinking inside the box, about life outside the box.

I have bought a whistle. Rs 8/- only. It's readily accessible in an open compartment of my purse.

When in danger of being relegated to inside the box, the sheer moving pedestrian population allows me to freely give a piercing whistle that temporarily brings the traffic near me to a confused stop. Some startled glances (others), some shrugging of shoulders(mine), and we get to avoid the MMRDA boxes and move on.

Crossing the road is even better. Crowds have never been so welcome before. As you shuffle across with the masses, you take a fake, troubled look in the opposite direction from the police, and blow the whistle . People walking along don't bother you. One police thinks the other has blown the whistle for some purpose. By the time he figures it was a non police whistle, you get your additional ten seconds right there.

I have just decided. While I don't like the BOX, I will stick to the THINKNG outside the BOX.

And I am grateful to MMRDA, BMC, SIA and our own
Police for introducing me to the two.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Learning from the blues and yellows

Some men in blue. Some others in yellow. Two of the yellow guys hold sticks in their hands. The "blues" circle around at various distances, which keep waxing and waning, and one of the blues always needs to do great deal of running, moving his arms and twisting of his wrist, on the way to chucking a ball at the yellows.

Then there are some teacher types, who behave like school monitors on the field. Like we did in school, they report names. We wrote them on a piece of paper and showed them to the teacher. They talk to the head teacher sitting far away, who secretly observes everything. Almost. Sometimes he even lip-reads.

Every time one of the yellows is able to whip the ball into the stands, there is a roar. Sometimes , when the places are reversed and the blues are with the sticks, the roar is even louder.

"Aai, why does the man crouching behind the 3 sticks talk so much ?"

"I don't know, son. Must be telling the stick holder to pay attention to the ball thrower in front of him. Like your teacher asks you to pay attention to what's being written on the blackboard in class, in front of you. And never mind the constant poking in the back from the student sitting behind you..."

"Aai, why does the ball thrower look in anger at the stick wielder ? The stick did not even touch the ball as it flew past. Wait, this time it did, and the fellow behind the three sticks caught it. I think the stick man did not like it at all ..."

" That's life, son. You learn to face the good and the bad in life."

"Aai, why did the ball thrower act like he was giving a "shaap" to the stick holder ? Why did he sit and bang his fists on the ground in front of the stick holder ? And why does the stick holder, stare and holler some stuff back ?"

"Son, sport is never like this. War and fighting is.

The child's eyes gleam. Its amazing, but the yellows and blues are behaving just like they do in his school in the recess, when games are played under pressure, amidst crowds of other children, an impending buzzer signifying end of available time, and everyone wanting a chance to fling the ball at someone else.

The child learns something more. The big boys in the yellow, particularly a fellow with Lord Krishna type hair, and white lipstick a la Dracula, seems to be most active. He snarls and takes verbal swipes at the younger boys. Sometimes he and his friends make fun of the older blues too.

But like the senior boys at school, the older ones get away with ignoring the yellows silently.

"Aai, why don't they complain to their teachers ? Maybe she will make them kneel outside the big white circle near the crowds of people. Maybe she will keep them inside the class in the recess and not allow them to play; maybe they will be forced to miss lunch. Maybe she will ask them to write a hundred times ,"I shall not swear ;I shall not swear....."...."

"Son, one goes to school to learn, and learn well. How well you do is judged by not just your final exams, but how you did throughout the school year. School also teaches you how to behave. With those you like and even those that you don't. You need to know why you are at school, and how priviledged you are."

"Unfortunately, son, the blues and yellows have forgotten that this is only a game."

"Aai, that's actually what our sports teacher told us ! Play true, play well, play like sportsmen, and play like team. Open your mouth if you have something to contribute. And let your sticks and ball do the talking.

"So true, son. Unfortunately , today, its like a fellow from your class, cheesed off at not being given his due "bhav", going crying to the teacher saying , "they called me a monkey!". Not done in sports. At the end of the day, there is another life in another place. And another game the next day.

"But Aai, I saw the blues teacher and the blues sports director having an argument yesterday. Do you think the yellows have arguments and fights too?"

"I am sure they do, son. But in their own houses. And normally, only one man speaks and decides. Unfortunately, amongst both blues and yellows, there are too many people talking, too many people carrying on about themselves, thinking that talking is "power"...

"Son, people like you notice these things and get the wrong ideas. Don't for a moment think, that giving a smart answer back to someone, or making a speech , works. It doesn't."

"But Aai,there are some blues who do not talk to much . Whenever they get angry, they take a deep breath, remember what their teachers taught them, and just play their sticks correctly. If one of the yellows stares at them , they just tap their sticks on the ground, , play an imaginary stroke in the air and shrug it off."

"Son. Learn from this. Most of the time, it happens that the yellows hear perfectly what you actually did NOT say...... "

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Encounters of the Touchable Kind

 I was travelling for some work in the morning crushing rush hour in Mumbai's Central Railway. Typically , no place to stand, forget sit. I was squeezed in, in a weird position somewhere near the door to one side, and even if I wanted to scratch my forehead, I was probably going to injure 3-4 people with my elbow.

It is a truth , at least acknowledged in Mumbai, that even if there is absolutely no space in a train, sheer and blatant willpower combined with a not so gentle shove creates, along with several unpleasant things, some space.

Someone wanted to get off at the next station, and typically requested me to try and make some space for them to advance. I sort of moved maybe 1/100th of a centimetre to the right, only to sense that I had stepped on some one's 1-cm-squared portion of a hand or foot, The doubt arose because this person was sitting right in the doorway , and human anatomy combined with the assorted passenger height distribution made it impossible to see who was where.

What followed was a thump of a wrist on my ankle, along with some high decibel abuse in an unnaturally bass voice completely out of sync with the fact that this was a second class ladies compartment. I got about full three minutes of abuse in a completely alien language, possibly with special choice expletives thrown in, cursing me and probably my future five or six generations to some untold bad tidings. This was accomplished by a tentative waving of hands , and an animated shaking viscera, while maintaining precarious balance in the doorway, as the ever expanding crowd in the central passage of the compartment ensured that involuntary exits from the doorway were entirely in the realm of the possible.

With some previous practice,in the handling of folks causing trouble in local trains, and oblivious to everyone else, I asked this person to suggest how people could get off at stations, unless we moved. Wasn't it clear that some tolerance was required, and no one was fond of stepping on other folks limbs as a hobby? I got an answer back, in some language I didn't understand, with further wild gesticulation, jutting out of chins, and a distinct show of attitude.

Nobody paid much attention. These things happen several times every half hour. Some non-believers in non-violence even get into action, which is a distinctly dangerous activity given the location and the crowd. By and by , communication between me and this person, kind of exponentially decreased, everyone got a bored look on their faces, possibly implying what else was to be expected given folks like "us".....

The train was a minute away from reaching the half way junction Dadar. Probably the world's only example of how travellers literally "pour" out of compartments and "attack" compartment entrances to climb in , in a way that makes you wonder if the capacity of the compartment is infinite.

Anyway, here I was , trying to advance to the door, along with several others. Working young girls, winding their hair curls just so, hoisting their bags with their lunch, water bottles and all. Mothers with children, clutching school bags, that sometimes , give rough-and-tough anti-scoliosis treatment at the wrong age to young vertebrae. Vegetable seller ladies with their supreme disdain for faltu fashion, sarees firmly tucked in, huge baskets, looming over everyone, and two such ladies having a loud conversation across several passengers, on how someone was in trouble for not "paying up" someone. A chikoo vendor lady, trying to transport, with supreme confidence, hitherto never noticed in even our cricket team, several kilos of chikoos, unsmashed , from Thane to Dadar.

Normally folks sitting in the door get up , way before the train glides into the station, to avoid being trampled to death by the masses. I suddenly noticed my aforementioned "adversary", trying to get up, unsuccessful at putting weight on the hands , and unable to get a grip on something firm to lever ones self up. Without any thought and as if in reflex action, I extended my hand, which was gripped by a strong, almost masculine hand. Half a minute later this figure in a saree loomed up in the doorway, still holding my hand. Then it was let go.

Why ?

A grandly made-up face wreathed in grateful smiles, one hand was waved about my face (the other was clutching the entrance rod for dear life) , and this person touched both fists to the sides of the head, all the while again saying something , again, in a language I didn't understand. With lateral nodding of a slim neck, bedecked with false jewellery, heavy makeup, and a saree pallu carelessly thrown over the left shoulder, I was the recipient of smiles, blessings, good wishes , for god knows what life events,

A complete transformation from an "enemy" to a friend. For unexpectedly helping.

The person sitting in the doorway was a hermaphrodite, known in Mumbai local parlance as a hijda or , chchakka. An example of nature gone wrong during some process, but consequently, a life, completely changed for ever.

The reaction for inadvertently stepping on toes was an understandable enhancement over an already seething anger , against constant facing up to derision
from the general populace. An in-you-face answer to a population, (that shirks and shies away, treating these folks as untouchables), revelling in their own goodluck at being born completely of a single sex.

The helping hand was a purely involuntary affair. In the chock-a-block sardine like packing of humans in the compartment, thinking never occurred to me. Someone obviously needed help. Maybe there was a muscle condition or problem. Maybe a fatigue problem. Who knows. But we were taught always to go in there and help, and not worry over who it was ,how sick, how different, and how angry. Discrimination on the basis of caste.religion, sex, or age , by us , would have , always ensured gross parental non-approval. My parents were no more, but my reaction was almost automatic.

We got off at Dadar. Flowed out of the compartment is more like it. This person, still muttering something, which I hope were good wishes, got off, smiled at me and turned to wait for friends emerging from other compartments. I got several looks from folks who thought all this was too much. Some people just went shaking their heads, trying to ensure nil bodily contact with my friend as everyone pushed everyone else to reach the bottom of the stairs leading to the over bridge.

I waited , adjusted my dupatta, checked my purse to see if everything was in place. (You never know who has been active with single minded devotion to purses, in the exiting crowd). Hiked my bag over my shoulder. The density on the stairs was reducing and it was time to get going. As I angled myself to tackle the eerily sloped long ramp to the over bridge, I glanced over to my right. My friend was in the midst of more friends. Talking nineteen to the dozen in the same language in which I had been first cursed roundly and then blessed, even more roundly. A shake of the hip, a flip of the paloo, a wee thrusting out of the abdomen, and they were on their way.

I waved and the entire lot waved back at me. I felt good. I hope they felt good. The only folks who didn't know what to feel, were those watching us from the platform, still debating whether to display their sense of disgust, incomprehension, or wonder at what the world was coming too.

The Father of the Nation was probably chuckling to himself somewhere UP There.

60 years and these folks still have not learnt a thing ?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The super 5's.

Those in the sixth decade of their life in India might fondly look back on the sedate , tolerant pace of life in their childhood. Television had not yet made life,per se, a function of time, where you behaved like a statue, and stayed motionless, when india were 8 down, Sachin and Harbhajan batting , with 3 balls remaining and and 5 runs needed to win.

In those days, you basically had your nose to the grindstone studies-wise, and occasional bouts of disobedience tended to make you quietly switch on Vizzy's commentary of some cricket match, which you surreptiously listened to, as your mother explained to the neighbours how you were busy studying for the prelims.

The skies did not fall if you lost, and even if you won, at the end of the day, the tired cricketers probably got back into a train at Churchgate station and rode home, standing inthe compartment door, cursing umpire so-and-so in their tired minds, worrying about getting back to office the next day. No motorcycles, cars, huge cheques, but just a trophy.

Everything had a natural pace, with a noticeable lack of desperation.

Television taught the subsequent generations to expect more and more, faster and faster. A guy bowling at 130 miles per hour could smirk via-a-vis someone excelling at 129.8 miles per hour. One learnt how to be dissatisfied or exult for the most insignificant reasons. Everyone wanted more.

At the end of the day, the bandwidth of our minds was fixed, and so our attention spans decreased. And there was a great minimization, of what we did and what entertained us.

The days of "do it now" and "do it fast" had arrived.....

Today, 5 day testmatches have degenerated into one day internationals. Now that we have had enough of those, the 20-20's are upon us. And lets not even think about income generation, audiences , cricket boards, avarice, profits, politics etc etc

Switch to what would happen in 2020.

The year , that is.

Coming up, the Super 5's.

Each side gets to bowl 5 overs. No one can bowl more than 1 over.

There is no LBW, but there is HOW, otherwise called Hip Obliterating Wicket. A batsman trying to face a possibly high ball by twisting to a side and presenting a hip, not only gets hurt badly, but he will be docked one run. Shouting HOW'zzat will now take on a new meaning. Anyone whose run count goes negative must go back to the pavillion. And so you need to score nicely before trying such acrobatics.

There will be beepers set into the ground, where the bowler is supposed not to over step his mark. Every 2 beeps, and the bowler will bowl the next ball with his alternate hand; a right hander will bowl the "punish" ball with the left and vice versa.

There will be special circuitry incorporated in the balls and the bats, so that everytime the bat and the ball touch/snick/scrape, there will be visible sparks, enabling erring umpires to make decent decisions , and never mind the singing, hooting, waving audience. Anything hitting the pads will not even raise a whimper.

The third unpire sitting in comfort inside the pavillion, will hear an almighty clang in his ears corresponding to the spark, so as to wake him up from an English or possibly Soth African, Indian, Pakistani or West Indian stupor.

Beginning with the first over , all fielders will be within a radius of 10 yards. Every consecutive over they will move 10 yards further away . This will introduce a new concept of "delicate wristy batting" which would lead to something similar to "placed" shuttles in badminton, where guile and not power is the requirement.

There will be NO Duckworth Lewis calculations. The algorithm in use will be the latest Abhyankar Gokhale rule, which takes into account monsoon wind speeds, greyness of clouds, aeroplanes flying overhead, and , finally, certain sweet tasting items being placed strategically on the pitch.

Microphones placed near the batsmen will be automatically connected to an automatic translation system similar to the United Nations, so the quality of on-pitch "chirping" can be monitored, irrespective of the language and dialect used. This information will , again, be fed to the third umpire, and will also serve to keep him wide awake.

The third umpire has been made significant in the scheme of things, after a West Indies umpire functioning as one was found nodding off to sleep, because the ground umpires refused to refer anything to him. Rumor has it that his phone was always busy.

In case of a tie after 5 overs each, each side would nominate a batsmen who would face 3 balls blindfolded. The batsmen to make the most ball connections would win for his side.

In case the tie still existed after this, each side would then nominate a bowler to bowl blindfolded, to sighted batsmen. The side to connect most balls would win.

In case this again proved equal, as per the latest ICC rules, both the teams would exit the championship.

Microsft and Intel are in the race to design the chips to be installed in the sparking bats and balls. There is an ongoing litigation over whose logo the players should wear, and Mr L. Yadav, president emeritus of the ICC, has suggested a compromise in the form of a logo saying "Doodh" , as a fashionable version of the word "Dude".....

An additional point of worry has been introduced due to the advent of some newer cricket playing nations like China, Bulgaria, Albania, Brunei, Russia, and Iceland. The influx of fake circuitry and rogue softwares cannot be denied, and the BCCI has recently met where Mrs Chakde Dhoni-Sehwag , the chairperson, appointed the cricket software firm of Kumble & Dravid to investigate things........

In the meanwhile, great celebrations were the order of the day in Bandra ,Mumbai, where youngsters Arjun Tendulkar and Samit Dravid were being felicitated for their grand success in the singles and doubles events in the recently concluded US open Tennis Championships.....

And Sachin Tendulkar, out for a walk at the Promenade after the felicitations, looked up at the sky, almost lifted his hand up as if he were carrying a bat , then thought otherwise, smiled to himself , shook his head and carried on....

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hometruths from an educated illiterate lady.

September 7, 2007 is International Literacy Day.

(Over two-thirds of the world's 785 million illiterate adults are found in only eight countries (India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Egypt); of all the illiterate adults in the world, two-thirds are women; extremely low literacy rates are concentrated in three regions, South and West Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Arab states, where around one-third of the men and half of all women are illiterate .......)

They also say that when you educate a man, you educate just one person; when you educate a woman, you educate an entire family . So true ..

(The following is a true story told to me, by the illiterate, smart lady who has been our family's household help for the last 25 years.)

In her words .....

" It's the story of the five of us. And I was the youngest of the children.

It begins with the five of us. My parents, my two brothers and me. Father worked for one of the biggest Engineering Colleges in Mumbai, in the department that did repairs all over campus. When I was little, every evening, , I'd accompany him to the Market Gate, where he would buy some leafy vegetables , and then sit for a while, chatting to the cobbler, his friend . In the old days, the college was not so big, and there were fewer people. At sundown, the darkness used to frighten me...all those trees, chirping crickets, hissing slithering creatures, and I would clutch my father's fingers tight as I skipped along home with him.

My two older brothers were in school - the huge school near the Market Gate. I used to feel so proud to see them going off each morning in their blue pants and white shirt. Sometimes I felt like going myself. Aaiyo ! How would I wear those blue frocks ? Exposing the knees and skirts billowing in the breeze ? Aaai would be furious. So I used to avidly pour through my brothers' books, and pretend I was studying them.

Years passed , and both my brothers left school. One passed 10th grade , the other did not. I was married off to someone recommended by our relatives in the native village.

At first it was exciting; a new life, new energy, new places. I had five children. One after another. Four sons, one daughter.

The more I did, the more they asked. They said I came from the BIG city, Mumbai. Who did I think I was? And then I heard the stories about the drinking. Every day, at sundown, it was so different from back home. Then the beatings began .

Children cowering.



How to live.

How not to live.

Then I heard about the Other woman. And decided I did not want to hear any more.

I confided in someone who worked in the textile mills in Mumbai and had come for a visit to the village. I asked him to tell my father and mother . That was the smartest thing I did.

My father and mother came. No words were necessary. The only words exchanged were with my husband's elder brother, who nodded. There were whispers, nods, fingers pointed at me , snide comments of other women folk. But my father carried my youngest , my daughter, in his arms , and asked me to walk ahead of him. With my mother, head held high.

I was back on campus. My children once again learned to be children. My father put them in the big school near the Market Gate. I started helping my mother , who worked as a household help in about four houses. She too was getting old. There were daughters-in-law in the house. They had their own households. So I took over my mothers work.

Like they say about the teachers in the college, when my mother grew old, she "retired".

Life has come full circle for me. My children, the sons, studied with the help of the uncles, indulged in by the grandparents, and I decided my daughter too would study, and get all the opportunities I never knew I could have.

This time it was my mother who supported me. My father was getting old. His sons were now working, one in the college and the other as a temporary worker elsewhere. So while I worked various houses doing housework and cleaning, my mother would wait to make fresh hot chappaties , for her granddaughter, when she came back from school. Looking on proudly as she struggled to do homework, sometimes with the help of her brothers, sometimes despite them.

And then came the day, I don't ever want to father collapsed one day on his way home from visiting a friend. He was rushed to the hospital. I ran all the way from working at someone's place, got my daughter from her school, and rushed to see my father. He was the one who had confidence in me, no doubt prodded and cajoled by my mother, who could see that my daughter should get opportunities I did not .

My mother was "super-un-educated", but super smart otherwise. She sat stoically at his bedside, occasionally coming out when his friends from department at college, came to see him, surreptitiously wiping her tears and looking somewhere into the distance....

He died two days later. My children missed him a lot. He motivated them to learn. He and my mother never went to school. But were more educated that many of the sirs and ladies I worked for, if you know what I mean.

Today , I am the same age my father was, when he came to bring me back from a hell , that I prefer to forget. I am both father and mother to my children. My daughter got married a few years ago. We had a reception in one of the halls on campus just like the folks I work for . My sons decided to give her a wedding she would never forget.

In some ways, she never forgot her wedding.

It was the beginning of seven months of a different type of hell. The husband had lied about his job, and never had one. The only place he could act superior, was with his wife. Aided and abetted by his parents. Whats more, he drank. And she was at the receiving end.

She did not have a father to call; just an old mother, and brothers.

But she had an education, she could read and write, and do simple sums, and was good at assorted craft work.

And so one evening she ran. And jumped on to a running suburban train that stopped at a station near our college. No footwear, dressed in the one sari that she had been wearing through the day. She went through the slush and mud and up the hill, and appeared at her mother's doorstep at 10 o'clock one night.

Was history repeating itself ? I don't know. There was no time to dwell on that.

I just opened my heart out to her. So did her brothers. She was not going back. She had an education, and we would look for a job for her. She would stand on her own feet, and not be trampled.

I think the world has changed . My daughter has a daily job at a place where they make ready made clothes. She also works and freelances on the sewing machine that one of the ladies I work for, gave her. Her grandmother can't see now. But her eyes light up when ever we visit. She is very proud of her granddaughter.

And all this because of someone who thought I should have a better life; someone who thought education is useful, and helped me send my daughter to school; you know, its not so much about what subjects you study ---its about learning to see a problem, and deciding how to solve it. My daughter went to school, then learned from life itself.

What education gave her was confidence.

Then I hear from the ladies i work for, about families where they celebrate someone's pregnancy in the house (with elaborate rituals), and then after finding out that it is a girl child, they force the daughter-in-law to abort. I have heard of girls undergoing four to five abortions.

All these people went to college.

I also hear about daughters-in-law being physically assaulted, humiliated and burnt, by the in laws, who operate as a group, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law et al, and then deny that anything happened. And it all happens because they all want more material wealth , but from the parents of the girl. Pictures on the wall depict the son holding a scroll in his hand, wearing something like a cape, like you see in movies on TV , in a court scene.

These people too, went to college.

Then there are families where the unhappily married , educated , daughter taking refuge with her parents, is sent back forcefully to gleeful in-laws who continue to torture her for money and her refusal to follow immoral paths. The parents , in the meanwhile, keep up their shameful head in a society that is unaware of all this. After all, they are educated people . How can they be involved in all this ?

They all went to college, did'nt they ?

Sometimes I really wonder, am I literate, illiterate, educated, or uneducated ? "

End of story. Happy International Literacy Day !

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS) : Drowning and Getting Entangled in the Net

"Tis true: there's magic in the web of it...."
so said William Shakespeare, in Othello Act 3, Scene 4.

Little did he realise what kind of magic the web was going to be !

My friend S., treats the Net, like a secret doctor, whose face she does not need to see. Faced with a weird leg pain one day, she searched and zeroed in , upon a term, called "claudication", and immediately got alarmed. Worried sick, she found out about blockages in the femoral artery that flows through the leg, and discovered, that a observant doctor can hear and differentiate between blood flowing sounds using the stethoscope, and tell whether there is a blockage, causing the aforementioned pain.

Her doctor, an amazingly wise and tolerant lady, and used to sudden scientific discoveries , as such by S., did the needful checking on artery sounds, and declared Sara's arteries just fine.

S. is in her thirties, but her apprehension, tension, loss of appetite and general state of anxiety affected her whole family till the puzzle was solved.

This is a minor example of what is happening all over the world today , like an uncontrolled explosion.

There is a huge tidal flow of information coming at us. Waves lapping at the feet are initially enjoyable, but the information wave is in danger of becoming a tsunami....

Think. (On the other hand, maybe you should not).

Every year, we publish a thousand books daily across the world. Every day, approximately 20 million words of technical information are recorded. A reader capable of reading 1000 words per minute would require 1.5 months, reading eight hours every day, to get through one day's output, and at the end of that period he would have fallen 5.5 years behind in his reading.....

America publishes nine thousand periodicals a year. Overall, more new information has been produced within the last 30 years than in the last 5000.

Electronic activities, like the telephone, email, fax, web cams, digital imaging, and , finally the World Wide Web, have been throwing up quantities of information so vast, that it is impossible to assimilate all of it, organise all of it, or understand this shortcoming.

Across the world whether its business, scientific studies, casual searches, advertising , or news propagation , people are finding it difficult to handle the flood of information directed at them. They are being faced with choices they never knew existed, and no one has time to look through all of them. In a classic mismatch between the speed of human thought and that of light, we are today facing and suffering from the symptoms of what may, be accurately defined as an Information Overload, or Information Fatigue Syndrome.

Its not a question of piles of transcribed papers on your desk; cluttered desks arise from cluttered minds; or maybe vice-versa. Bureaucrats, business executives, teachers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals, are aware that no sooner they get through the stuff on their desks, the computer will be ready to spew out more. Who is to go through this unlimited information, and how much of it will actually end up being knowledge? Does the additional information make you anxious about the fact that maybe you have not read the entire data, and that there may be more relevant stuff yet to come? How do you know when to stop ? At what point do you freeze everything and get on with your work , which was due, sometimes, yesterday ? Is the human brain equipped to handle information overloads like this ?

And so we come to what has been called "Information Fatigue Syndrome" or IFS by British psychologist David Lewis, who was researching the connection between Information overload and poor health, stress, tension, and sometimes, even lack on analytical ability. People with IFS become unable to perform in-depth analysis, which leads to difficulty in reaching conclusions. Other psychological problems involve irritability, tension, feelings of helplessness, and mental anguish. Fatigue, stomach pains, failing eyesight, insomnia, headaches, forgetfulness, bad temper, and computer rage, are some additional problems people face.

We plug in our minds to the great information socket and tune out. Never mind that most of the feedback we receive is irrelevant. The Internet has now become like a continuous TV program, with commercials indistinguishable from the actual program. Information keeps hitting you with regular waves, and the sheer quantity has disabled you from analysing what is useful and what is not.

Being a consumerist society spoilt for choice is also an unavoidable side effect of having so many avenues for easy spitting-out of information. Do we need to know details of 20 different styles of jeans to choose from, 24 flavours of jam, 38 types of breakfast cereal and 22 models of mobile phone, and that is just naming maybe 5% of the items on which numerous choices are available ?

Children have not escaped the Information fatigue Syndrome either.

Two hundred sixty-five Texas fourth and eighth graders responded to a survey asking them whether they had experienced information overload, what strategies they used to reduce the overload condition, and what words would describe their feelings while overloaded. Turns out that the fourth graders had a higher overload percentage than did the eighth graders, 86 percent compared to 67 percent. Can this say anything more about the increasing sophistication of the older children in manipulating masses of information and their growing experience with informational analysis and synthesis?

Among other questions, the students were queried about their feelings when overloaded with information.

Among fourth graders, the most prevalent feeling was that of being confused and frustrated. Then came, being mad, angry, or even furious. When asked to associate a physical symptom with a sense of being overloaded, they responded with headache, tiredness, depression, or sickness .

When eighth graders were queried in a similar manner, the findings were slightly different. Ten eighth graders, all male, responded with vulgarity. While boys responded with anger and cursing, the girls described themselves as tense, stressed, or experiencing panic. Interestingly, fourth grade girls felt as if they were exploding and bursting, and responded to overload with irritability. By eighth grade, fatigue and panic have set in. Either the older girls learned to internalize overload or their active anger had been socialized out.

Maybe we need to do a "rethink" on dealing with open ended searches that spew out tsunamis of information. Is Attention Deficit a defiant response that indicates a planned ignorance and inattention to the information overload ? Are adult stresses related to the realisation that complete control over work activities is an impossible proposition ? Do we need to think of using faster and faster computer speeds in other ways ? Was there a life before the Internet, email and instant communications ?

There are some things e can do to avoid being a part of the Information Fatigue Syndrome.

STOP being an "informavore" (informavore (in.FORM.uh.vohr) n. A person who consumes information.)

Reduce passive information intake : This means we reduce interaction with any media that we do not actively interact with. If your search throws out 2,800 links, do not pursue a hundred of them in a wild quest for knowing more. There is just so much information you can process and remember. (Think of how you mindlessly watch asinine commercials when watching a TV program, without worrying about the utility of it all).

Be still : Learn to occasionally rest your mind. Different people have different techniques. Some folks can instinctively meditate anywhere. Some need to indulge in vigorous physical exercise to bring on mental peace. A rested mind is a smart mind. Tune out the "noise "factor", and you will then see the main points.

Learn to "flow" : This is the complete opposite of information fatigue. "Flowing" is the ability to concentrate on one activity so as to be able to mentally exclude anything else. Have a daily checklist of stuff to do in the house before starting work. Make it a habit of doing that without fail, daily. (You actually check your email more regularly than that, don't you?)

Turn off email, your browser and all telephones (for a while everyday) : Alarming , as this may sound to some electronically challenged folks , there is a world beyond emails and browsers. There also existed a fairly peaceful world before cell phones appeared on the scene, and we were all doing just fine , thank you.

Get physically comfortable : An uncomfortable posture in a fashionable but stressfully shaped chair does nothing for you. Sit in a comfortable sofa, have some soothing music playing. Music that brings back memories is even better. Too many machines in the room and the thermostat setting going for a toss , either too cold or too hot , is an invitation for the onset of information fatigue. So pay attention to your physical environment and get comfortable.

And finally, whatever work you do, remember, that while you may be aware of the desired results, over focusing on the goal to the exclusion of everything else doesn't necessarily get you faster to the goal. A balanced approach with some pitfalls and troubles probably ends up teaching you a lot more in the long run.

Come to think of it, maybe acronyms came about consequent to people becoming lazy about writing the details, given the vast information sea they were drowning in. And so we had folks saying ROTFL and pretending to be smart, whereas it was much more fun to perform that and interact with someone else. And only dumb types learnt to say YMMV; for heavens sake, EVERYONE'S mileage varies, that's what being a different person is all about and that's what makes everyone else exciting and interesting.

In one of the great ironies of information age , it appears that while information can be trivially copied and the information bandwidth continues to widen, the individual's attention bandwidth is as narrow as ever. You abuse the bandwidth, and network problems ensue. We see that everyday in offices of psychiatrists, psychologists, and school counsellors. Its all a question of balance.

At the end of the day, the human brain and human mind is vastly superior to the computer. Like someone said, if you drop a ton of apples on a computer, it will not come up with the theory of gravity.....

Maybe the solution to IFS is as simple as a wastepaper basket ?

Monday, August 20, 2007

A completely irrelevant history of Achilles' heel and Duryodhana's thigh....

As a child I heard the story of Duryodhana's thigh, and as I grew older, Achilles and his association with the heel was something one read about and wondered. One tends to think very respectfully about folks after whom things are named.

But Achilles was different. And Duryodhana still needs to have a thigh muscle named after him, I should think.

Duryodhana , who can be described as a wild, wilful, brave, spoilt prince of the Kauravas , maybe found in the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Achiiles , it turns out , has a similar background, only it is based in the various Greek Islands, and his activities were chronicled by Homer (not Simpson) in the Iliad, which was probably written, as a way of remembering folks with all lenghty, unpronounceable, Greek names and their multifarious activities with and without Gods. Truly humbling, and my sympathies to all the Greek school children of those days who had to learn to spell.

Both Duryodhana and Achilles had births, which, would leave all the world's doctors gaping in wonder, with their mouths ajar, almost permanently. In both cases, women were prominently involved in communicating with the then current Gods, and basically getting them to do what they wanted to do themselves.

The Mahabharata is all about the fight between the Kauravas and Pandavas, the former the evil, and the latter, well, not evil. The Kauravas were a hundred, the Pandavas, five. The Pandvas were born to Queen Kunti, in the usual way, except for one episode , where , unlike the female fratricide practiced today, Kunti let go , one of her sons, into a basket in the river, as the child was not fathered by her royal husband, but by the Sun God. (Where was the husband when all this was happeneing ?)

The Kaurava 's King Dhrutarashtra was blind, and his queen Gandhari was in competetion with Queen Kunti . Frustrated about not delivering before Kunti, she beat her womb , and really messed up her delivery ; what emerged was a hard grey mass. Well, excessive prayers to various sages, resulted in the mass being broken up into a hundred pieces, each being buried in a pot of clarified butter or ghee, for a year, after which , someone cracked the pots open, and a hundred sons emerged from them, the eldest being Duryodhana.

Well, a year and nine months of development , in such a high cholesterol, high fat environment,certainly made Duryodhana a strong child. He was also a thoughtless, yet scheming, disrespectful, greedy person. Legend has it, that he was made up of thunder, and was very very strong. He spent his entire life, scheming, cheating, playing people off against each other, granting material favours to people he liked, and insulting and abusing the Pandavas, to the extent, that their wife Draupadi (five Pandavas had 1 wife, but that is another story), was dragged into his court and disrobed as part of his celebration of winning a bet against the Pandavas, as well as also to greviously insult them . He further sealed his own fate, and showed his lack of class, by slapping his thigh and inviting Draupadi to sit there.

Draupadi , of course was stronger , mentally, than all the guys, and she called upon Lord Krishna to come save her honor. Lord Krishna did his part by programming the thing inbto an infinite loop, by converting her clothes into an endless saree, which Duryodhana kept pulling gleefully, till his facial muscles got fatigued, his triceps and biceps drooped, but the saree went on and on!

The Mahabharata is the story of the fight between Kauravas and Pandavas, and the avenging of this insult of Draupadi, kind of moderated by Lord Krishna, one of the most people-friendly and popular Gods, who sometimes displayed human values....

Towards the end of the war between the two, when all kinds of great and decent warriors on both sides were killed off, Duryodhana vowed to kill Bhima , his counterpart at the Pandavas , who was similar to him in attitude and strength, but not evil. Duryodhana's mother, true to her willful and irrational way of looking at things, following the dictum ,"my son right or wrong" , decided to do her stuff to make him invincible. Duryodhana's father the king, was blind. In an act of super dedication, Gandhari went through life with her eyes covered with a bandage, and in the process achieved some great powers of sight. Every thing she "saw" became invincible.

She told her son , that prior to the next day's war session, that he should have a bath and appear before her, "au naturel" , so that she could look at him, and every square , or should I say, cubic centimetre of his body could get immunity and become invincible.

Well, there went Duryodhana, fresh after a bath, mace in hand, slowly and proudly, as they say, streaking around, when he ran into Lord Krishna, who managed to give hima complex, just ridiculing him no end for walking around and facing his mother like this, given that he was a grown up man now. Duryodhana, with his high fat birth circumstances, had probably so clogged his neuronal synapses, that he lost sight of his mother's main objective. In an attitude and lack of application of thought, reminicent of typical politicians today, he simply covered himelf around his hips and faced his mother, who was, simply stunned speechless by his denseness, but ended up making him invincible everywhere , except in the hips and thighs area.

Lord Krishna, made this handicap known to Bhim of the Pandavas, who finally killed Duryodhana by simply beating his thighs to pulp with his mace; and, as legend has it, drinking his blood.....

And so it was all about knowing a persons susceptible points.

Achilles, had he known Duryodhana , would have probably understood all these happenings and even approved, so dramatic was his own birth history.

One abiding strain that runs through the Hindu and Greek mythology is the participation of Gods in routine human events. Where as in the Mahabharata, Gods have participated in a tricky advisory capacity, in the history of Achilles, Goddesses seem to be ruling the situation. In addition Gods routinely came down to participate in wars , intrigues and weddings on earth, sometimes interfering in things defying all logic.

Achilles was the son of a person called Peleus and a divine sea nymph called Thetis. One of the conditions of Achilles's parents' marriage (the union of a mortal with a divine sea nymph) was that the son born to them would die in war and bring great sadness to his mother. Thetis, was greatly ambitious and wanted Achilles to be immortal and invincible.

One version about how she tried that says that she smeared him with ambrosia and held him over the fire, to burn away his mortal properties , so to speak. Peleus, was properly aghast and he dragged the poor kid away. The father then put the young kid under the care of the Centaur Choron , who educated the boy.

The second version says that Thetia held Achilles upside down (by the heel), to get him to immerse in the sacred river Styx. It seems everything that the sacred water touched became immortal ; and poor Achilles was left with a mortal heel, where his mother had held him.

In the meanwhile, some Goddesses got interested . Eris, the Godess of discord (yes, there is such a department), got cheesed off as she was not invited to the Peleus-Thetis wedding. She landed up anyway, and angrily threw a golden apple into the proceedings, which a lot of other greedy goddesses reached out for. (It is amazing how the apple , a proletarian fruit, appears again and again in crisis situations, whether in gardens or weddings....).

In a set of steps that defy logic, one of the influential Gods, Zeus, landed up and said the judge would be Paris, the prince of Troy. The goddess who would be basically able to bribe Paris well, would win. Turns out , that one of the goddesses , promised this guy Paris, someone else's wife , called Helen. Both Paris and Helen were visions of beauty , and this completely arbitrary and irresponsible behaviour on the goddess's part makes you realise where todays powerful people get their ideas from.

Helen was actually married to Menelaus, King of Sparta. Paris set out on a so called polite visit to Sparta. Menelaus treated him with great honor, (similar to , say, how the Queen of England would treat, say, George Bush). Then the King went off to attend a funeral somewhere, which gave Paris an opportunity to run off with Helen, and take her to Troy. (Shame on you, Helen).

The entire Trojan War, was the result of all kinds of supporters of Menelaus getting together to fight Paris , attack Troy, and get back Helen. People made all kinds of predictions; a seer, some Calchas , said the war would be lost unless Achilles fought . Achilles mother, Thetis, then dressed him like a girl, and spirited him away to Scyros, another place, to keep him from being drafted into fighting a pointless war. While there he met Deidameia, and they had a son Neoptolemos. Various people with completely unpronounceable names like, Odysseus,Palamedes,Cinyras,Agamemnon, and others, managed to manoevre around , trick Achiiles into revealing his presence and get him to come and fight Paris at Troy.

Several customs come to light here. It was usual for someone to predict something arbitrarily, and suggest solutions if you did not want something to happen. The gullibility of the general population was shocking, but that of the rulers was just disgraceful. (It happens even today ...).

The solutions were mostly about sacrificing beautiful women at some altar, to appease , supposedly some God, but probably to satisfy someone's secret enimity with someone else. Sacrificing one's daughters was not uncommon.

The siege of Troy and the Torjan war lasted ten years, in which many folks died. Paris and Menelaus (stealer and husband respectively of Helen), fought a duel, and just when Paris was about to be killed, the Godess Aphrodite saved him. Guys called Cycnus, and Troilus, were killed by Achilles. In the ninth year of the war, one Agamemnon got into a fight with his colleague Achilles, and Achilles went off in a huff. With the best fighter having semi-retired , one of the Troy fighters called Hector had a dream run in the war, and became powerful. Achilles in the meanwhile had a bunch of affairs with, Patroclus, Troilus, Polyxena, daughter of Priam, Helen, and Medea, not all of them female. (How Helen appears in this list, simply boggles the mind. Guys, that was the end of the trojan war right there !) . But no. Agamemnon got panicky and begged of Achilles to return.

Thetis, once again had a goddess prepare a suit of armour for Achilles, and Achilles more or less ran through the Trojans, basically slaughetring everyone including an Amazon Queen and an Ethiopian King, and of course Hector. Hector's dead body was tied to Achiiles' chariot and dragged all over. Achilles held funerals for his loyal soldiers, blithely sacrificed a bunch of ladies at the altar, and held funeral games in honor of the departed.

Achilles's career as the greatest warrior came to an end when Paris, with the help of the God Apollo (once again making you wonder about the standards of morality amongst gods), killed him with an arrow which pierced him in the heel, the one vulnerable spot, which the waters of the River Styx had not touched because his mother had held him by the foot when she had dipped the infant in the river.

No amount of godly interference, pious prayers of strong minded mothers, and direct communication with an assortment of highly wilful gods, could save either Achilles or Duryodhana from their respective fates.

Homer wrote the Iliad in honor of all the Greek going ons and the Mahabharata was pennd by Vyasa . What is amazing is that despite the lack of any hugely outstanding qualities, a great amount of fuss is being made of Achilles. He was brave , but so were some thousand other folks with highly unpronounceable names defined by Homer. Standards and ethicswise, he was not at the top of his class.

As if this was not enough, the term “Achilles’ heel” was first used by a Dutch anatomist, Verheyden, in 1693 when he dissected his own amputated leg. Before him, some anatomical afficiando, decided to honor Achilles, by naming ater him , the strong tendon that connects the muscles of the calf of the leg with the heel bone : the “Achilles’ tendon”.

India has its own system of medicine , Ayurveda, and ancient Sanskrit texts refer to the scholarly books ("Sushrut Samhita " ), by Suhsrut, the father of Indian Medicine, outlining surgical procedures, anatomy , medicine and various treatments. Maybe, religion was so much a part of everyones spiritual and material life then, that no one named any thigh muscles or tendons after, say Duryodhana or any other nasty person from the scriptures.

Maybe if Hippocrates had had something to do with naming muscles, Achilles wouldnt have got his heel, so to speak.

But what can you say ? After all one man's thigh is another man's heel.

And thigh or heel, we need to remember, that at the basic level, the susceptibility is all up there, in the head.....

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shakespeare's loaded question : Whats in a name ?

No-Name-Calling week, was declared and celebrated this year in January. Early next year it will becelebrated from January 21-25, 2008.

Why ?

Words hurt.

The younger a hurt person is, the more of an effect it has . In schools, it is routine for some students to be the target of frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. Paticularly, in British schools, bullying, by the seniors , was the norm, and you were supposed to emerge, unscthed, and "bloody but unbowed" , as they say, through that.

Sometimes this resulted in a permanent scar on the person's psyche. It affected the students studies, confidence, self respect and attitude towards the world.

"The Misfits", written by James Howe, is a novel about four best friends who band together to face seventh grade in the face of such name callying and bullying. It describes how they formed a group and fought school elections on a no-name-calling platform, and impressed their principal so much, that they initiated a "No-name-calling-Day" at the school.

First celebrated in 2004, the No-name-calling week has been celebrated every year since then , and has consisted of educators, parents and schools working together and discussing and implementing ways to reduce and remove bullying in the community.

While young children today may learn , it is inetersting to note that "name-calling" in some form, as always existed, the world over, historically speaking.

Calling people names, or Name-calling has absolutely nothing to do with knowing somebody's name and calling out to him and her. But it has everything to do with calling out to someone in a very offensive way, so as to be hurtful.

In the olden days, people did not sport easy names like Bill, Al, Dick,Rajiv,Deepak, Arun or , for that matter, George. They had impressive sounding, multisyllable names like Cornelius, Olivio, Marlborough, Spencer, Abraham, Venkatraghavan, Solapurwalla, Setalvad, Figueredo-de-Albuquerque, Boutrous-Boutrous-Ghali, Mountbatten , and such which basically made it difficult to get up and abuse the person easily.

The Greeks and Romans, not to speak of the Egyptians , were very fond of names that nobody could spell or pronounce, but then most people did not take English 101 in those days. You had names like Persepolis, Polyxena, Atridae, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Telamonian Ajax, Laomedon, Tyndareus,-just to name a few.

Calling out to "you XXXX XXXX Neoptolemus Ajax" or whoever, wasnt either practical or cool. And so they resorted to duels. While name calling was all about dishonoring someone, duels, (which by today's criminal standards could be deemed culturally sanctioned murder), were all about "restoring on's honor" and an inextricable part of daily life.

While Greeks and Romans could embellish duels, with human sacrifices on the side in the names of various assorted Gods (who commanded them to do that), huge wars like the Trojan War , were often conducted on a matter of individual honor and prestige, and neighboring countries joined the fracas. The more the merrier.

Closer to home, it is not unusual to realise that several prominent political figures were , through the various ages of history, often involved in duels for the most flimsiestof reasons. Abraham Lincoln nearly had to slash at a tax auditor with a saber because he claimed in print that the man smelled badly. Mark Twain , while working as a nespaperman in Nevada in 1864 challenged a rival and only escaped injury through the guile of his "second" (a supposed arbiter, or a person who might be called the dueler's "homey" in today's parlance). At "Bloody Bladensburg," an infamous dueling field near Washington, D.C., many of the country's politicians brutally mowed each other down over second-hand rumors. San Francisco , at one time had the dubious honor of being the Duelling Capital of the nation.

While its been a long time since someone went around Washington DC waving a sword , name calling continues actively to this day. Rush Limbaugh, even took on Chelsea Clinton when she was, would you believe, thirteen, and called her a Whiye House Dog. In a effort at name-calling people his own size, he then attacked Democratic leader Tom Daschle and actually called him "El Diablo" or "the Devil Incarnate", complete with the music of "Devil in a Blue Dress" wafting in the background. He evn further explained that Daschle could be Satan in soft-spoken disguise. He even questioned his patriotism by calling him Hanoi Tom, and Tokyo Tom.

While powerful rulers from the middle east often use completely unparliamenrtary language to describe Bush, Venezuelan President Chavez got into the act by called Bush El Diablo.

Recently , referring to answers given by Presidential hopefuls (2008) to questions about them meeting leaders of Iraq,Venezuela,Cuba etc, Barack Obama called Hilary Clinton, a "Bush Cheney Lite".

Talk radio host Michael Savage, announced that developing countries like Venezuela were "turd world nations"; that Latinos "breed like rabbits"; and that women "should have been denied the vote".

If this were a tennis match between the Us and Venezuela,, we would now be at deuce.

Speaking of tennis , Wimbledon and England come to mind.

No 10, Downing Street, the historical abode of all British Prime Ministers, has been at the recieving end of the name-calling slugfest, and word has it that all the 50 men and one woman who have held the job since Sir Robert Walpole took control in 1721 have been beqeathed rude names. Most have hated them.

Most recently, Tony Blair has been called Bush's Poodle,by his opponents. Then The US president complicated matters saying "He is bigger than that !"(June 27, 2007)...

It has not mattered whether the British Prime Minister was a member of ruyalty or a commoner. The sixth primeminister John Stuart , Earl of Bute, was called Jack Boot; the tenth, Augusttus Henry Fitzroy was described as "the Turf Macaroni"; the twentieth, Frederick Robinson, was nicknamed the "Blubberer"; Sir Robert Peel the 24th occupant was disdainfully called the "Orange Peel"; Benjakin Disraeli , the 29th occupant of 10 Downimg St, was often dismissed as "Dizzy"; Harold Macmillan, the 44th occupant was openly called "Mac the Knife". On generous days , he was often called SuperMac; Jobs and Wozniak probably could not ever match that. Arthur Balfour, sometimes called Bloody Balfour , was actually happy that no one called him by his earlier names, "Pretty Fanny" , "Clara", "Niminy-Pimminy" and "Lisping Hawthorn Bird". As can be expected, he never married.

Much more recently, Tony Blair referred to the current Prime Minsiter as a "big clunking fist"; Margaret Thatcher , the Iron Lady, was derided as the "Milk Snatcher", and Edward Heath, endured "Grocer Heath" , a reference to his very ordinary origins in a society where class was anecessary attribute.

Things can get very alarming in places like India, where recently the Chief Minsiter of a Southern State, while replying strongly to the opposition leader in the State Legislature , declared as to how the "opposition leaders mother must have been ashamed to carry him in her womb ". The Indian Parliament, (now a far cry from the time when debates there were a treat to watch and a lesson in oratory and behaviour)
a few years ago witnessed a Prime Minsiter about to lose a no-confidence motion being called a namby pamby, and "non-worker".

The study of English always required , at some point , a study of Shakespeare. he is even quoted to have made a loaded statement like "Whats in a name ? ", and the mentioned roses.

Today, thanks to the World Wide Web, there exist sites where one can choose adjectives and nouns fron three columns, and make up original sounding personal insults such as "paunchy claybrained flap dragon", "tottering tickle-brained moldwarp", "frothy guts-gripping whey-face", and " beslubbering dread-bolted horn-beast ", all listed under the heading "Shakespearan Insults".....

In the face of such adults who thrive and get drunk on power calling other people names, the No-Name-Calling Week comes as a breath of fresh air, in a world polluted with offensive words, accusations , fights and wars.

In a world where any schoolchildren reading newspapers are subjected to such news, it remains to be seen , what effect such a no-name-calling week will have. Sometimes, children are known to dsiplay more sense than adults.

Hopefully, seeing all these illbehaved, abusive, foulmouthed namecallers, will have a telling effect on today's children , and while politics is a lost cause in this regard, the children will grow up to be co-operative, polite yet independent citizens with a better control over their vocabulary....

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A right look at the left

August 13 is being celebrated the world over as the "International Lefthanders Day".

Right handed greetings to my left handed friends....

The left and right are really two complementary sides. However, the treatment meted out to the left is often far from complementary. It is often very confusing, and sometimes difficult, being left handed in a right handed world. The word "right" by itself, besides denoting a "side" also has a connotation of correctness; this makes everything NOT right , as being wrong. And so , many times, those preferring the left hand , and displaying "left handedness" end up suffering.

Even language is partial. You do not appreciate a "left handed compliment"; the words meaning "left" in , say French and Latin are "gauche" and "sinister", which is as bad as it can get; however, the words for "right" are an exemplary choice : from the French "droit", we get the English word adroit, and Latin for right is "dexter" (from which we get such words as dexterous), all very positive connotations.
My son was born and spent the first 25 years of his life in India. Somewhere around the time he was 6-7 months, his grandmother's sharp, about-to-develop -a-cataract eye noticed a distinct preference for what was called preferring the "wrong hand". In India, hands and their usage in everyday life is sacrosanct. The left hand is used for activities related to getting rid of body waste and cleaning oneself thereafter. The right hand is used for eating, conducting prayer activities, intellectual activities and the like. A family discussion ensued. Twenty years before, this would have been a crisis situation with people designing ways and means to get the kid to turn right handed. Luckily, better sense prevailed , and the child was allowed to grow up with his natural proclivities.

Then one fine day, when he was eight, a special teacher was selected to come teach the child the Indian percussion instrument, the "tabla". The teacher was aghast. The tabla consisted of two differently pitched percussion drums, and the main one, the actual tabla, MUST be played with the right hand. Strong will prevailed over the boys natural tendencies, and to this day, 20 years later, the boy plays the tabla, right handed.

One has heard about the use of force in changing the "handedness " of a child , leading to a sense of diffidence in the child, occasionally manifesting as stammering.

So one wonders as to what is this concept of left handedness, what does it imply, how advisable is it to be tough on such a child about changing, and how do children react to various levels of compulsion, about changing the "handedness".

Research done by a team from the Queens University at Belfast in 2004, suggests that the hand you prefer to use as a 10-week-old foetus is the hand you will favour for the rest of your life. These scientists, studied the foetuses through scans, and identified 60 foetuses sucking their right thumb and 12, their left thumb. They followed up these children at the ages of 10-12, and found that all the right thumb sucking foetuses were right handed children , but about a two thirds of the left thumb sucking Foetuses had developed as left handed children; the others had switched over from left to right!

Turns out that even at 10-15 weeks, when its too early to be thumb sucking, the foetuses still wave their arms about; majority appears to move their right arms more. At this point,at 10 weeks movements are not under brain control or conscious control, and could be just local reflexes determined by the spinal cord.

This team suggested that instead of the brain deciding the handedness, the opposite was probably the real story. Nerve connections from the body to the brain develop before the connections that allow the brain to control the body's movement. And so, my son must have been a vigorous left hand waver while in the womb......

The Jury is out on that one.

One in every 10 people is left-handed, and males are one and a half times more likely to be left-handed then females, according to Lefthanders International.

Statistics , of course , can end up showing connections you never anticipated. French researches at the Montpelier University indicate that left-handed people are more likely to be schizophrenic, alcoholic, delinquent, dyslexic, and have Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as mental disabilities. As if that's not bad enough, they're also more likely to die young and get into accidents.

But this ability to "be different" has its own benefits. Particularly in sports . Babe Ruth in baseball, and of course John Mcenroe and Martina Navratilova in tennis. Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh in Cricket. Oscar de la Hoya in boxing. You name a one-on-one sport, and one can point out left handed sportsmen who were masters in their field.

Is being a lefty an advantage ? The aforementioned French researches think so. Since right handed folks are a majority, for a leftie , fighting with a rightie, would be a predictable thing. Easy. However, for right handed types, fighting suddenly with a left handed warrior would be a surprise factor, and would need some getting used to.

Turns out that murder rates in countries and the proportion of lefties in their population have a correlation. While one needn't look apprehensively at the next leftie one meets, consider the fact that amongst the Dioula of Burkina Faso in West Africa, where the murder rate was only 0.013 murders per 1,000 residents each year, they found only 3.4 percent of the population were left-handers. However, studies from the Eipo of Indonesia, show 27 percent of the population is left-handed, and surprise, surprise, there are three murders per 1,000 people each year.

This clearly explains , how despite Darwin, (and I do not know if he was a leftie), the lefties manage to survive through. Maybe they are fitter, maybe they just try very hard.

So why do people get born left handed ? Our handedness is controlled by certain pathways in the brain. According to Stanley Coren, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia , any kind of trauma during the gestation or even during birth, can mess up some of these pathways, and affect the handedness factor, as such. Turns out that women above the age of 40 having a baby, are 128 percent more likely to have a left handed baby than those who have babies in their twenties.

Sometimes these birth traumas reflect in the health problems that folks face when they are older, Bill Clinton and George(Sr) H.W. Bush both have histories of birth stress. Clinton suffers from allergies and Bush from Graves' disease (hyperthyroid). In the 1992 U.S. Presidential election, all three major candidates were left-handed. There have been six left-handed presidents: James Garfield, Harry S Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Regan, George Bush, Bill Clinton. Some sources also list Herbert Hoover, but he appears to have been more right than left.

Before the lefties get all depressed, we need to also mention that Alan Searleman from St Lawrence University, New York found there were more left-handed people with IQ over 140 than right-handed people. You really need to figure out the "handedness of Albert (Einstein), Issac(Newton) and Benjamin (Franklin). ALL lefties. Wow .

Actually, being a leftie is not to be restricted to the hands. Some people are complete lefties, hands, feet , eyes, everything. But most are a mixture like left handed and right footed. For example, when you throw the ball you may be just like the general tightie population, but while writing, you cannot sit on the same bench as a right handed person, without having a shove-shove altercation. Think of which eye you use to look through a keyhole . One eye is always stronger. If you closely watch your friend closely as he /she smiles , it will be clear that one side of the face is almost always more expressive . According to the University of Waterloo in Canada , only 57% of left-handers are also left-eyed !

Lefties sometimes referred to as “southpaws. Possibly originating in baseball, as , given a typical layout of a major league baseball field, a left-handed pitcher would end up facing south as he finished throwing the ball. Some experts say this is actually a term used in wrestling, and may have originated there.

Southpaws or not, and given the plethora of right handed instruments we use, it may be of interest to note that given the standard "qwerty" keyboard, the number of words in English that are typed solely with the left hand is in the neighborhood of 3400. Around 450 words are typed solely with the right hand.

And fancy research apart, there are some everyday things of note.

Left handers who get an interesting mug on their birthday, will never see the picture on the mug ,when they lift it too drink their tea.

A child I know went to hospital to have the appendix removed, and woke up to find an IV in his left arm. he was miserable as he couldn't do any of his drawings while recuperating. he was a leftie, and the doctor did not know that ....

If you see someone using a spiral bound notebook that is bound at the top, chances are he/she is a leftie.

A leftie who had ankle surgery, had some problem with the plate and screws used to align the bone, as the screw was bothering him. The doctor asked him to do "friction massage" using a circular motion. This guy did the massage in the wrong direction being a leftie and messed up stuff , so that the doctor was constrained to remove the hardware to the save the nerve from the wrong direction massage.

Something as simple as playing cards. If you fan the cards out naturally left-handed, the numbers disappear !

Lefties are very good at visualization of abstract geometric shapes which probably explains why so many creative people are lefties. Research conducted by Dr Nick Cherbuin from the Australian National University in 2006, indicates that left-handed people can think quicker when carrying out tasks such as playing computer games or playing sport. Connections between the left and right hand sides or hemispheres of the brain are faster in left-handed people, and fast transfer of information in the brain makes left-handers more efficient when dealing with multiple stimuli.

The aforementioned child mentioned in the beginning of this article , is predictably, in the creative field of architecture , as well as communication about sports.

The DNA , with its helical structure is like a right handed screw. However, several journals , in blatant inattention to scientific veracity and more attention to urgency of publication, actually end up printing a mirror image. Thomas Schneider , a researcher at the NIH, has actually tabulated these happenings , all in prestigious scientific journals, and even maintains a web page on it. In all these a random left handed orientation is given to the DNA spiral.

Probably goes on to show that the editors are predominantly right handed. using only one side of their brain. But on the other hand, this "creativity" in the DNA could be attributed to a leftie , maybe ? (Researchers , eat your heart out.)

While we learn to live with and wonder about the world of lefties, two persons called Coulson and Lovett from the University of California at San Diego, actually managed to do research on , believe it or not, "Handedness, hemispheric asymmetries, and joke comprehension! " (Exclamation mark, mine). They actually attached electrodes to 16 lefties and 16 righties, and did experiments, subjecting them to jokes . Among other things , they said "Differences may reflect more efficient inter-hemispheric communication in the left-handers, as they are reputed to have relatively larger corpus callosal areas than right-handers. Results support the portrait of more bilateral language representation among left-handers, and suggest language lateralization affects high-level language comprehension tasks such as joke comprehension."

Sure. But of course. That's right. (Or should I say, that's left ?)

It probably means lefties laugh more.