Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Middle Inheritance

Overcome as I am, with my surge of inspiration enabling me to give a Ludlumian flavour to the title, let me just say that for a long time it has become apparent to me that irrespective of the various boundary conditions one may be forced to encounter in one's life, the only feasible path for a sensible person, living with eyes wide open, is a middle path.

Notwithstanding the boring, unexciting and dull connotations one associates with the word "middle", jiggling one's cerebrum indicates several ways of hitting a "middle" path.

You can stick like fevicol to the
straight and middle path , or you can swing in wild non-simple harmonic style, go through emotional and other peaks and troughs,in effect, asymptotically approaching a middle path, sort of dithering across the middle with lesser and lesser amplitude.....

Sticking to a middle path in life, prioritizing objectives, trying to shoulder various family responsibilities, folks are generally forgiven a few secret stray sinful swipes on the leg and on sides (as they say in cricket), with modest (but sometimes tumultuous) reactions, as they learn , about what we call the wonders of life.

Their children are often found listening to FM chatter on a 10 year old radio with a half broken dial, as they study for their impending tests. Folks in these house purse their lips when they see their child gravitating towards jeans costing eight hundred rupees(only), on the quarterly shopping trip to the Mall. A single pair of pants, simply should not cost more than your monthly milk. A daughter emerging with a neckline that obeys Issac Newton's laws, is told in no uncertain terms to forthwith change. These folks do not offer Colas and biscuits to visitors. Its all about limbu sherbet, chaklees and bakarwadis; on a festive day, maybe an ecstatic ladoo....

Observe some others, where modern monetary floods have led to behavioural excesses.

These folks emerge from backgrounds where parents have seen a near vertical rise in their economic status leading to wild lifestyle
swings. Kids in such families are experts in propagating the "I need" syndrome. A family outing is a mother with her head demurely covered accompanied by a daughter in a low waist pair of jeans, exhibiting layers of stomach, or a son with pair of torn "hanging" jeans, characterised by a now-they-fall-now-they-don't waistline. Kya karein. All their friends are like that only....

They change cellphones more frequently, than they cut their nails. Communication with another individual consists of messaging with atrocious spellings, and very often they may be mistaken for mad people as they walk around talking to themselves, on what is called their hands free cellphone attachment.

They either fare disastrously in exams, get depressed, get medically treated (as a prestige issue), without thinking, or they join tuition classes that cost so much that some people pay that much as a deposit on a single room accommodation they rent. These kids get cars for their birthdays, and it doesn't matter if they do not have a driver's license. The high end money hype, is matched by the low end relationship they have , with their families for whom they have no time. It is so much more important to "hang out at hot places with hotter people", and "chill". The extreme oscillations across the
middle, even appear in the language :-)

At some point reality bites. Counselling is the order of the day. And they slowly and finally get dragged to the
middle and straight path. Which they try and keep to , as they fluctuate wildly across the axis, troubled to find the mean(pun intended) middle.

Life replicates these swings to both extremes.

Bottled water is now a "necessity".
Covering bore wells, dug for providing water to a village , is not. In one case a bottle is thrown away. In another, a little girl falls into the open bore well pit while playing. We operate in extremes.

60 miles north of Mumbai, news reports indicate
maximum malnutrition deaths amongst children . 60 miles on the other side a pharma company , having an almost zero social spending budget, spends several lakhs for a 10 second TV commercial about fairness creams, and their big boss appears on stage , standing next to the current hit star, who charges a couple of crores to sneeze on screen. Vicks ki goli lo ? Nah. Too middle class.....

More and more Indians, lug their name brand suitcases (somewhat identical to something I got in Somwar Peth), as they sigh and stand on the airport escalators, bored as they go on their fourth trip to Bangkok. Yesterday, a BEST bus driver on duty , with a busful of passengers, on one of Mumbai's most congested and badly modified roads, died of a heart attack, as his body, struggling to make ends meet, working long hours, eating whatever was available, slumped over the steering wheel,
giving up on the apathy of those who have failed to make quality-of-life better for simple folks.

My household helper's daughter has to face hoodlums' comments as she returns after a hard days work everyday,
constrained as she is, to stay in a certain locality, and unconcerned and unmotivated, as the police are, in looking into this thing. But , in the name of national security, a posse of 37 police in various uniforms, lounge outside, and accompany families of certain so called leaders of Mumbai, as their children attend school, and wives attend kitty parties. They are perceived to be in danger, my bai's daughter is not. Extreme myopia . Or should we upgrade to blindness.

Can sports be far behind ?

A single chap wallops his way to a tricentury against South Africa.
The theory of finding a middle path demands that we swing to the other extreme, and prove that in the next test, runs are counted in tens and twenties, and a three digit score for the whole team is a distant prospect. Never mind. As some say, Form is non-existent, Class is extreme.

Hockey , a national game (was that an extreme classification ?), just ceased to be national after we bowed out of the Olympic qualifiers, riding on the euphoria of previous medals. No one worried about a minimum level of international proficiency.
We await the swing back to the middle path.

After our shooters got Olympic silver and gold in Athens, four years ago, today, there is nothing to shoot, as the governmental sports setup is
unable, unwilling and unconcerned about sanctioning money for ammunition, for 3 years.

There is something stable about maintaining a middle path, that requires a sustained and intelligent effort. The earlier generations of Indians followed this as a concept, which is why their descendants today work and study across the world, heads high. Us.

More developed nations, earlier went through the pangs of prosperity that we see in India now, and an entire generation has come up there today, that is being replaced where it counts, with people who came from the third world .

There is a lesson in this. Exciting as it is for young minds today to soar wildly , we need to leave them a "middle inheritance", that our parents left for us. The wildness and greatness of a mental flight is measurable only if a stable middle base exists.

(Like my badminton coach used to tell us, 40 years ago, "move all over the court to retrieve shots, run, but after every shot, quickly get back to a central court position; the ideal way to attempt every shot is to take off from the "middle....")

But is anyone listening ?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Grand(ma) commentary on the state of cricket circa 2008

My elderly aunt from Pune (who had some questions about Brangelina in Pune earler) was visiting us. A typical, naturally superior Punekar, she is not a fan of Mumbai weather. That being so, and given that she is enjoying the eighth decade of her life, she spends a lot of time indoors, some of it , watching TV.

Living with a typical Mumbai middle class family with a single TV connection, and several cricket mad members, sometimes she is forced to watch cricket, instead of, say, an old marathi movie. Being intrinsically a smart lady, she learns new things very fast. This time she ended up watching the CB series finals(with all the associated commentary), which she did with great enthusiasm, quietly lighting the diya in the puja room when India had 2 overs left to bowl. (Imagine hundreds of grandmothers doing this across India, and you start sympathizing with the Indian Gods, all 64 crores of them...).

Basically interested only when Tendulkar is playing, she is firmly convinced that in particular , guys like Symmonds and Hayden are up to tricks, and are basically, bullies. And the less said about Ponting, the better it is. She doesn't trust him.

She finds this whole auction stuff confusing. Have we sunk so low that we now
sell people ?

"All this drinking of Bournevita and Boost, riding motorcycles ,playing cricket on top of municipal buses....they earn so much.
Where was the need to sit around and get sold like cauliflower ? " she asked, simultaneously disdainfully throwing cucumber peels into an already burgeoning trash bag, a fine example of her multitasking capabilities while watching cricket.

Someone tries to explain the IPL and ICL stuff.

"You mean they actually paid so many thousands to the guy who started the nonsense in Sydney ? Someone called him a monkey and he went crying to the judge ? Who gave which bad words to who, and our newspapers have
nothing else to report ?

We tell her its not thousands , its hundreds of thousands, even crores....

"For what ? And why get the supercilious chap who keeps chewing and spitting stuff the whole day ? All, that chewing and spitting stuff into your palms and rubbing them. Chee. "

By mistake she once saw an ICL match in progress.

"It wont work"

"Where is the need to have girls is missing clothes, dance to show what's missing, everytime someone hits beyond the fence? Are they hitting the boundary to bring attention to whats happening at the boundary line ?"

Then she read in the newspaper about some team from the south planning to display Indian dance moves at the boundary line, to "honour" our "culture".....

"What have we we come to? Vinasha kalay viparita buddhi......I remember someone trying to have classical sitar performances in one of the fancy restaurants at the Taj at one time, and how everyone crticized the move. And here we go , doing tirakita-dha on the boundary everytime someone whips the ball past the white line. Do you ever see anyone performing ballet moves and piroetting behind the goal post when a goal is hit at football matches in Italy? "

What completely gets her aghast is the people who are supposed to be buying these teams.

"Looks like you have to be a dancing actor, a modern actress, a daruwala (sorry Mr Mallya, thats what she calls you), or shining industrywallah to have a team of your own. I mean I have heard of people buying and gifting jewellery, clothes, even houses to family members. Do we now look forward to news items that scream across headlines saying "XYZ of PQR industries buys Yuvraj Singh for the team, to commemorate his daughters engagement or something ?"

Then there is this thing of Shoaib Akhtar. Doesnt impress her at all.
All show, and more trouble, is how she describes him. Fails to understand how he was a choice in the first place, forget someone bidding for him.

All this fuss for 44 days of the year ?

"Our team was playing cricket so well recently.
Such a good example and inspiration for little boys. Work hard, don't get distracted by stupid idle talk on the pitch. And then they spoil it all by selling themselves for money.

She thinks all matches should be like the CB Series Sydney and Brisbane finals.
Indians playing as Indians, Australians as Australians; each playing proudly for their country, and not primarily for money. No need to have weird mixed teams.

And like she says, putting a totapuri mango in a hapoos basket, doesn't make the totapuri mango a hapoos.

But there is just one thing that bothers her no end.

How can anyone think they can BUY Sachin ?

Monday, March 03, 2008

*****Another little girl grows up....

I remember her as a little chubby girl in a cool looking ,radially flaring summer frock, holding on to her mother's hand, and walking, alongside her , with a definite purpose. Skipping along a road dappled with the rays of the evening sun trying to venture through the lush foliage , she was probably just immensely pleased, that her mother was home from work.

One word that simply shouts to be heard in her case, is confidence. She always had, and continues to have, oodles of it.

A girl who did very well at school, not just in studies, but also revelled in perfomances on stage. My children went to the same school, and, as is the tradition , all of us parents religiously appeared once a year in a huge auditorium, and watched in wonder as they sang, danced, acted, peformed, and went smartly striding up on to the stage to collect their annual awards, academic and otherwise.

A vision in a white sari, next to a statue of Lord Krishna, oblivious to the chattering of first grade types in front, and fake smart types at the back, she acted out her Mirabai role , full of concentration and attention to the music; several minutes later, she was back, school uniform and all, going over to the podium to accept her academic awards, to the complete amazement of the chief guest.

Many moons later, now a senior at school, she faced a very different exam in life. She now had a younger school going brother, of an age, where listening to elder sisters is something you did not happily do. The elders in the family were involved in handling a medical situation, which would take some time to resolve. She was old enough to know the significance of the problem, and wise enough to realize that the best way to help, would be to manage everything in the house herself, so her parents did not worry.

So, while an entire generation of school seniors , got fussed over by family members, tiptoeing around the house, making tea at unearthly hours, and snacks on demand so as to enable the seniors' blood-glucose to cross the blood-brain barrier and aid in igniting the spark of knowledge, this little girl, attended to her academics, managed the kitchen, supervised the staff, and most important, was always there, for her little brother, anticipating what he needed. Household help existed, but there wasn't anyone then at home who could wait and rustle up some stuff for him at odd times, and she did that too, between thinking about polynomials,conjugation of verbs, and electron energy levels.

And she studied and managed the house, and excelled at both. Once in a while, my daughter and I would run into her on a visit to the local temple. Probably there, to have her own conversation with the One who Sees , she would be sitting down for a short rest before a trek back to a worried house. My daughter was much younger, more enamoured of the temple prasad, unashamedly hankering after it, and this girl always made her feel that , it was ok to be that way. My daughter never had a clue, that behind the wide grin and twinkle in the eye, was a worried mind.

Early summer, found us at the pool, where we would occasionally run into her. My daughter was learning to swim, doing better than average, and I like to think that some of it was due to genuine encouragement from this girl, who actually had interesting conversations with her, about the various strokes and tricks one could do in the pool.

By and by , it was springtime, the sun shone again, health issues were resolved, and the family was back together. The little girl had grown up in more ways than one. She had had a unique training in recognizing a problem, and then solving it. (She would need that later, but for problems of a different kind).

She went on to college and did engineering. Unlike most girls her age who spent hours negotiating public transport woes of this city, she stayed in her institute hostel. We moved house, and her way home from college , most weekends, took her past our building.

We would often cross paths, as i needed to travel some distance for my daughters new school, and for someone who excelled at studies, was a top ranker , and considered a promising student, she had an amazing empathy for another young girl, who was still coming to terms with what society called inabilities of the academic kind. In a closed society, where there are supposedly more doctorates per square metre than elsewhere, and less understanding about "underachievers" than elsewhere , it was refreshing to meet someone who seemed to know that there are different types of successes, not all academic.

She is now pursuing a doctorate herself in the Queen's land. Those in her field take great delight in her progress. Its not enough to be clever; you need to be able to communicate your immense knowledge at all levels of proficiency. And today she finds herself as the Resident tutor, teaching the British youth , all about pressure, flows, obstacles, eddys, resistances, and how to handle these, academically.

She should know. She has learnt how to study and predict the various flows in life.

Today, she stands , resplendent in her silks, waiting for the young man, who went to college with her, and then onwards to England. Both worked very hard, and will continue on for a doctorate. In the meanwhile, the hall resounds to the chatter of excited relatives, glistening in their silks, with a whiff of jasmines and sandalwood pervading around.

She stands , surrounded by her family, in a paithanee and jewels, in the vividly decorated wedding hall, waiting for the young man to arrive with his family, on the Big Day. There is a constant chattering of relatives, folks moving around offering glasses of cool drinks; her mother, in an effort to handle conflicting emotions, trying to balance the "acquisition of another son" (as they say) vis-a-vis a departing daughter and assorted grandmother types, lifting their kanjeevaram palloos, to surreptiously wipe their eyes, as the prepare to witness the wedding of a wonderful girl.

Indian weddings and jewellery , go hand in hand.

And I would like the young man to know, that he is getting the best jewel out of them all......

With our Blessings.

*** An earlier blog about another little girl was "The little girl grows up..."