Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Colours of Navratri.....ऐलमा पैलमा गणेश देवा

The Navaratri festival has just begun.

Navaratri , celebrating the advent of the month of "hasta" according to the Hindu calendar , is a celebration by women in honor of the Mother Goddess. We have several Goddesses, and we celebrate these days in honor of Kali/Durga (the Goddess who slays evil), Lakshmi(the Goddess of wealth), and Saraswati (the Goddess of learning). As can be expected, this is primarily a Womens' festival. At least as celebrated in traditional Maharashtra, which more or less excludes Mumbai, the way things are today.

India has a plethora of various cultures, with varying customs based on your region of origin. Given the wide variety of geography, history and weather across the country, the celebratory customs vary. What doesn't change is the dedication and worship of the Goddesses.

Here in Mumbai, there is a distinct Gujarati(Western Indian) flavour to the proceedings. One sees earthen pots with wonderful decorations being sold in various localities. In most shops , sales are on, and the female of the species is literally spoilt for choice of traditional clothes, all of them bursting with color , and outstanding in the detailed patchwork and embroidery. The clothes replicate those worn in rural areas in Gujarat, particularly also amongst the menfolk.There are mass celebratory folk dances or garbas held on all the days of Navratri. Some super enthused folks with no limits on resources, often wear nine different outfits on the nine different days. (And it is not as if you can wear these later to office, or someones birthday or a movie.) Announcements are made by various entrepreneurs, who organize garba dance events, for all the nine days of Navaratri, complete with famous singers, season's passes, food courts lining the premises; in anticipation of ban on loudspeakers late at night, several folks even announced a head-phone system where you wear headphones that pipe the music into your year, to which you dance.

Thats almost like e-navaratri.

The Navaratri of my childhood was a different thing all together, and was probably a carryover from the time (first quarter of the 20th centry), that girls grew up in a "protected" environment, assiduously learnt the home crafts, and got married early , (to be thrown into dicey family situations, sometimes with senior management problems :- )), when they should have been having a great time playing with their friends, only to rush home and be cherished by their parents...

And so a festival was celebrated where the young girls could be themselves.

Not being subject to digital time ticking away all the fun in milliseconds etc, life was about the sun entering constellations , and exiting constellations. Navaratri happened when the
Sun moved to the thirteenth constellation of the zodiac called "Hasta" (Elephant).

My earliest memories are those of celebrating "bhondlas". Nine days when you went visiting in your neghborhood, to participate in very women specific song and dance celebrations, in honour of the Goddesses..

A "Paat" or a wooden "flat" was cleaned well, and a picture of an elephant was drawn on it. Decorated and placed in the centre . A whole bunch of us girls, held hands in a circle and went around this "paat" singing various traditional songs. The first day we sang one song, the second day 2, and so on till we had 9 songs on the last day. Boys strictly never participated, though assorted cranky younger brothers who held along to our skirt-tails were tolerated.

Everyday , at the conclusion of these songs, we had to guess, what was called the "Khirapat" ...... this was some real great fresh foodstuff prepared by our mothers, offered first to the Goddesses, and then distributed amongst the girls as a blessing. The first day, there was one khirapat, the second day , two, and so on till we had 9 khirapats on the 9th day.

My aunt had a big swing on a largish patio, which was just outside her kitchen area. The "paat" would be kept on the swing and we girls, wearing our traditional best, would circle around it singing our songs , with one eye and one nostril directed towards activity in the kitchen. Since it was a get together of many neighbours , as the number of khirapats increased, various other mothers would offer to bring pot luck style khirapats, and their arrival , with tins emanating whiffs of great food, was carefully and secretly monitored. Once the khirapat was correctly guessed , it was time to enjoy the fruits (of our mental and physical labour). At this point, assorted brothers and other males of the family sort of joined the going ons , and were roundly ignored as we proceeded to devour the wonderful stuff ....

What was interesting is the songs to which we circled the "paat" . It was a reflection of society and life of young girls as it existed then. A lot of the songs had to do with a young girl's perception of her new family as she entered her husbands home and began a new life. A lot of songs empathized with the girl's childish firmness as she clearly played favourites in her new family.

The songs were about the little girl sitting all upset and aloof, and various members from her mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, brother-in-law etc offering her all kinds of material inducements to returning home with them. She would keep refusing, only to answer in a charmed affirmative when the husband came to ask.

Another song played upon the traditional mean image of the mother-in-law , when she guided
her daughter-in-law , through planting the bitter gourd plant, watering it, watching it grow, to harvesting it, washing and cutting it , finally making a curry out of it, then eating it, and even washing up afterwards. The song ended in an amazing turnabout , where the mother-in-law, fully aware of the age of her child-in-law, would ask her to get a comb and come get her hair braided, sending her off to her parents , for a visit, in what was probably then considered, style.

The songs had tunes that were very group-of-girls specific and repetitive and easy to sing. Contrary to actual society where the girl dare not open her mouth , look up, or dare to answer unless asked, in front of her senior in laws, the songs had her dealing very playfully and being demanding, and them being indulgent . Maybe wishful thinking in those days.

The main song was always an invocation to Lord Ganesh, to come and bless the new set up the young girl was entering, and this was always sung first.

What was interesting was to note how this festival was a great mix, of a realization of a young girl's need for recreation with her friends, her introduction to what would be her responsibilities in her new house, and the benevolent presence of the Supreme Being, who guided you through all your life stages.

In the olden days, patriarchal habits entailed that the men of the house ate first and got the choicest stuff , routinely. Women of the house quietly ate , whatever remained, later.

In an age where social customs were strictly followed, and willful disobedience, be it from a little girl, was frowned upon,this celebration of Bhondla songs and the guessing of the Khirapat goodies, was probably a custom initiated to allow these young girls to "officially" enjoy their teenage years ,full of friends , companionship with other girls, and great food, even if for 9 days a year.

Times have changed. Like everywhere else, money rules. In an increasingly globalized world, exclusive womens' festivals end up being in a minority, except in cases displaying the genetic male chauvisnistic streak in our society, where it has to do with the continuing good health and life of the husband. Bhondlas are now celebrated by some very dedicated people in large towns, who strive to keep the old customs and songs alive. In smaller towns in Maharashtra, bhondlas are still held. In some places they are called hadgaas, but are basically the same thing.

Worshipping God has now advanced from being a personal quiet tete-a-tete to a public display of dedication, hiding private deals for self welfare. Religion really doesnt matter. There are temples, mosques, dargahs, and churches, where people of all religions flock. You have something to ask of the Lord, and the particular place of worship is known to answer prayers. So we have Hindu's flocking to churches and dargahs, Christians visiting temples and dargahs, and Moslems who wait to honor the Ganpati procession as it winds it way to the sea on immersion day.

Prominent personalities make 3 am visits to places of worship, walking barefoot en famille, to ensure success for their children and themselves. The Z-plus security granted to them by the country ensures that the entire retinue walking around at 3 am attracts sufficient publicity. Some walk backwards all the way. Some write letters to God and put it in the offerings box. Various offerings are promised for certain events to happen in their lives.

Its a good thing, Gods do not draw up comparative statements of deals offered. And , then decide.

Somewhere up there, Someone must be shaking His or Her head, surely wondering what the world is coming to, and what happened to that innocent get together of little girls, singing and skipping around an elephant drawing, innocently praying, with a keen eye on the side, on certain mouth tickling things being made in the kitchen.......

Happy Navaratri.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Not yet divali or Christmas, BUT.... दसरा -दिवाळीचा आहेर

Its been a long time (35 years?) since I tangled with exams and results.

Not to speak of prizes. And so one wonders if the blogosphere has adopted the Indian festival calendar for spreading cheer around.

Just received an Brilliant Weblog award from Sucharita Sarkar at Whynotblogitout. Its special, because she is in the profession of teaching English, and its been ages since I got a prize from any teachers :-) . Thank you.

This award is for blogs whose content and/or design are brilliant as well as creative. The purpose of the prize is to promote as many blogs as possible in the blogosphere. Here are the rules :

1. When you receive the prize you must write a post showing it, together with the name of who has given it to you, and link them back

2. Choose a minimum of 7 blogs (or even more) that you find brilliant in their content or design.

3. Show their names and links and leave them a comment informing they were prized with ‘Brilliant Weblog’

4. Show a picture of those who awarded you and those you give the prize (optional).

5. And then we pass it on!

So here are my choices for the award of the Brilliant Weblog Award :

1. Kartikeya at A Cricketing View , for introducing me to blogging, and for his single minded dedication to blogging about the bat and ball, sillypoints, fine legs, and other anatomical impossibilities.

2. Pearl for her Pearl, Why You Little... , full of joie-de-vivre

3. June Saville's 70 plus and still kicking , a rocking blog of a rocking creative-writing senior

4. Gayatri at Treedom of Expression , for narrowing a generation gap, and doing wonderful blogs about her wildlife adventures ....

5 RajK at my2cents, for her interesting observations on meeting various folks as she gets on with the business of living in a nondesi environment

6. Windy skies , a very informative, detailed and wonderful blog on the human element in our festivities, traditions, and behaviour of run-of-the-mill folks......

7. Judy at Living on the other side of the Hill her Suddenly Senior blog with lots of Suddenly Senior fun stuff.

Here in India , the festival season , the season for fun and giving is about to begin. Have fun giving awards to blogs you have enjoyed......

Friday, September 26, 2008

Is there a middle brain?......मेंदूच्या मद्ध्यावर ......

Despite Aristotle, who did his best to run down the brain, by making statements like it was used just to cool the blood, and that all muscles were really managed by the heart, and the heart and not the brain was the seat of the soul etc etc, some other folks prevailed, and the current most popular thing about brains, is to talk about how the left-brain or right-brain is dominant in various folks.

How to we find out ? the following characteristics serve as a guide

Right brain : uses feeling ,"big picture" oriented ,imagination rules ,symbols and images ,present and future ,philosophy & religion ,can "get it" (i.e. meaning) ,believes ,appreciates ,spatial perception ,knows object function ,fantasy based ,presents possibilities ,impetuous ,risk taking.

Left brain : uses logic ,detail oriented ,facts rule ,words and language ,present and past , math and science ,can comprehend ,knowing ,acknowledges order/pattern perception ,knows object name ,reality based, forms strategies ,practical ,safe.

It has occurred to , what i might call my backward brain (since I can't decide on the rightness or leftness of it, and going forwards, will make me exit through the eyes maybe), that a collection of highly lefty or righty people might orient entire countries a particular way.

Like in India its a peculiar situation.

By sheer virtue of size of the
population, and percentage of population below , say 35, we are faced with an entire generation of left brain types. Cream of our youth, graduates of places which are now a brand, strutting around with laptops, blackberries, overflowing intelligence quotients, sadly lacking emotional quotients. Analyzing and recognizing patterns and signals, electronic and verbal, sometimes non-verbal too. Obsessed with detail. Planning, theorizing,proving. Integrating society and differentiating their status , away to glory, as they climb higher and higher in the mountainous regions of their life. There are of course some exceptions, who are rightly leftbrained, and adorn the fine arts and performing arts spectrum of our country. Some very imaginative business and industry folks.

If you look at those who rule, they possibly have a "right" to be, what else, but rightbrained. They are always looking at the picture, particularly when the audio consists of jingles of the monetary kind. Big pictures costing bigger bucks, with bigger cuts going to massive pockets. And what do you say about these masters of dynamically changeable symbols and images, where everyone spouts religion and philosophy. The former for the hoi-polloi and the latter for their donors. There are dreams outlined for the future, lots of fantasy directed at those too leftbrained to imagine things. They are always taking risks, being advised, no doubt by leftbrained calculating advisors. They use feelings very well, and impetuously announce things, looking at the big picture, every 5 years.

The interesting thing to note , is the part played in this by two people called Mr Broca and Mr Wernicke, God bless their souls. Both have been immortalized by having places in the left brain (97% of the time) , named after them. These areas of the brain have a lot to do with the ability to speak and articulate.

But notice , that these two gentlemen were around a long time ago. Neuroplasticity of the brain is today a reality.Maybe the human being is evolving. Maybe Mr Broca and Mr Wernicke , cannot have reserved places any more.

A little shift in one direction, and you have changed your party from left to right.

Rings a bell ? Notice the onslaught of speeches around you by all the right brained worthies? More so, as elections loom on the horizon ? They say that
intonation and accentuation, are often the responsibility of the right brain. No wonder.

Apparently the left and right brains are separated by a crossover area called Corpus Callosum.

Migrating from left to right, strengthening their jingling Corpus (funds) in a very mean and callous way, and maybe, sometimes sitting midway on the fence , a la Corpus Callosum.....

Whoever decided on names in the brain must have been an Indian.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

A time to give and a time to receive....वाह वाह !!

Judy from "Living on the other side of the hill" has given me a huge surprise..... an "I love your Blog" Award. Thank you Judy, greatly appreciated.

The idea is to now give this award to some blogs that I have enjoyed.

Here goes.

Aleta at Fleur de Aleta , for sharing the highs and lows of life so wondrously.....

Lakshmi at A travel blog of an Indian Backpacker allowing me some great armchair travels in India with education.....

Sucharita Sarkar at Past Continuous for her wonderful memoryblog .....

Kavi at Kavi's Musings for his unique observations of things around him

The award graphic is shown above. Saving and posting in in your sidebar completes the process.
Thank you folks, for enriching my blogging activity

Have fun awarding this to blogs that you like too.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Layman brothers (and sons) लेहमन बंधू अणि भाजीवाले

There are the Lehman Brothers. Or should I say "were" ?

And then there are the Layman brothers.

I am one of those people who start getting restless with impatient boredom, when the news folks on TV get started on the Sensex, Nifty, Nasdaq and similar stuff that is supposed to throw everyone into a depression, every time some cheating company is identified, a well known company splits into n pieces and the owners fight over them, or, someone in power, utters, (sometimes knowingly and sometimes pretending not to be so), something that depresses those, who should know better than to speculate with their hard earned greens.

Lehman Brothers and their ilk promulgated a certain culture that implied there was no upper limit to what your earnings could be. Add one more zero and you are a hero. Be seen in the most swanky places. Change cars every 3 months. Light up 5 star hotels as you flash your cards. Get club memberships. Join the Champagne set. Send your children to private schools.

You can aspire to go higher and higher. The more incredible the rise, the more hurtful the
Fall (pun intended). But if uncontrolled rising is not your destiny, you sink. You hit the bottom with a thud. There isn't any place further down to sink. And so, as they say, bloody but unbowed, you struggle, and learn to stand again. You need to define where the sky is.

And so we come to the Layman brothers. Otherwise known as Siva.

I stay on a campus that was considered way out of town. Small shopkeepers, low on fashionable exteriors and high on ideas , entrepreneurship, and plain good sense, started these mom-and-pop stores across the road. Selling provisions, vegetables, regional specialities in the appropriate seasons, pooja(worship) paraphernalia and so on. They even started home delivery after they got their own telephones, which was, at that time a huge achievement in Mumbai.

Siva was the son of a family from the south, who decided to make his home near our campus. Living in a space with a lot of personal inconvenience, and a lack of privacy, endemic to certain types of localities in Mumbai, he would assist his father in the shop, and do home deliveries balancing his huge bags on a bicycle. You paid him on delivery. By and by he came to know all our families, and saw our children grow up. He jumped on the eco-green bandwagon, long before it became a buzzword, and made the bags for his shop from old newspapers. Here in India, we sell our old newspapers to certain people who then do the bag business with others. Some of our friends and we decided to simply let Siva have our unused papers , old books, notebooks etc, for free.

Turns out that someone had included an old , now useless chemistry journal from their freshman year in the junk paper stock that he got. For a person, who never saw the portals of a college and had to leave school for financial reasons to chip in at work , he treated this old journal with such respect, he thought he shouldn't tear this to make the paper bags that he needed. One fine day, while I was deciding between aubergines and french beans at his tiny shop, I almost dropped the tomatoes,
when he suddenly asked me if my son did Chemistry in college.He carefully showed me the book, told me who it belonged to, and asked if I had any use for it. I was totally impressed by his awareness, respect for knowledge he had no access to, and ability to prioritize things, in the face of business, savings, possible expenditure and what have you.

Very soon , the road outside our campus was declared arterial, and qualified for widening. Siva's shop, along with a lot of places we took for granted , was in the way, scheduled for demolition. Bulldozers appeared on the horizon.

In the meanwhile, Siva had got married, and his wife marketed some of her ready to use traditional South Indian food preparations at the shop. Demolition compensations were declared by the authorities, refused, discussed, subjected to a committee, and alternate premises were offered . The only crunch was, that the minimum size of those premises was bigger than Siva's tiny shop, and he needed to make an extra payment for a size he did not want!

Life teaches you better, than what you learn at all the management schools combined.

Just after he got married, Siva got interested in , of all things,
cutting hair. His vegetable shop didn't open till 10 am and so he interned with a friendly barber friend , mornings, to learn the skill. He took a risky loan to be able to take over the offered premises, and then , sold it off at a decent profit to an upmarket type of business. Immediately paid off his loan. He then got himself a smaller place, and used some resources to get a brother to come over and join him as well as run the vegetable business on a on-the-phone-order-direct-to-home basis. The new place was in a more people-friendly, semi-residential neighborhood, and he set up a barbershop with the brother occasionally assisting.

It had occurred to him that the vegetable business was getting crowded,
and he needed to diversify.

That was the start of our local Layman Brothers.

The vegetable business still operates on a trust, pay-at-the-end-of-the-month basis. There are now two telephones, one at the shop, and one a cell phone with the brother managing the vegetable business. Siva has a son now,
who goes to school. And a daughter, who will also go to school once she is a bit older. They all are from the south, but have learned the local language and speak it very well (Folks from outside India might be horrified to know that the Indian Constitution recognizes 22 major languages, and we have one National language, Hindi. Like any group with diverse language requirements, folks get into fights over language and prominence, but as a nice side effect everyone ends up being more or less multi lingual, and the languages enter each other's vocabulary very often. )

His older customers are his friends, and he gets invited to wedding receptions ,
including that of the girl whose Chemistry journal he saved with much reverence.

His old father lives with him and his family, a contented smile on his face. It is still a two room tenement, he shares with his extended family. He paid off his unofficial-word-of-mouth-house -loan long ago. He isn't looking for a bigger place. He looks ahead to the day
his son will write in his own Chemistry journal. He is currently thinking about his brothers marriage. One more person to help in the business gives him ideas, and would probably make his brother happy.

He knows that no government or bank will come rushing to help him in times of trouble. What will help him is the trust people have in him. And something his late mother told him before she passed away when he was young :
You are poorer for losing the trust of those around you. Money is not the only thing that enriches you.....

Don't know about the Lehmans. But our
Layman brothers are here to stay .....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Bloody Tradition......, कुणा एकाचे रक्त कुणा एकाचे दान

My fascination with blood goes back a long way. 

Possibilities of me being a valiant warrior type being absolutely nil, my first awareness of blood happened when , as a child of 8 or so, I witnessed an accidental injury caused by someone who was running around with a paper windmill on a stick, and managed to pierce my brother in the ear with it. Shock and awe at the expanse of red , growing by the second across his ear, we recovered fast enough to rush to our neighboring doctor with him, where he was examined and correctly treated, as a result of which, he has no hearing problem , till today.

Mercurychrome, in school, was a kind of "desired" accessory. You played hard, you stumbled, streaks of blood appeared, and a bunch of overexcited kids hovered around, and there was a lot of hissing ,as your teacher applied a lashing of mercurychrome. For some reason the bandages never stayed in place, and the orange yellow stain on the knees was a highly prized prestige item. Our school had plenty of sports, and growing up in a family with a male majority, I learned to be fairly nonchalant about blood; mine, that is. 

Voluntary community events were the norm in my childhood, and we were encouraged to participate , more when it was about giving, than when it was about getting a certificate or prize.

Staying away from home in college, one got engulfed in extracurricular stuff, and one day found me at the College Blood Donation camp. It was the Simple Sixties in Pune, a fairly conservative traditional town then, and going for this camp held in one of the halls in the boy's dorms, was a challenge enough. While some conservative types, acted as if we were entering the portals of Sin City, a bunch of us went, and were happily welcomed by the doctors, nurses, and organizers. Basking in a sense of systolic and diastolic importance, as they checked our blood and fitness, we admired those who single mindedly poked into our veins, to, as my friends said , "fix the tap and get the pipes going".

Eureka! We gave blood!

Arose. Nothing happened. All visions of stumbling across the hall, eyes dimmed, hands outstretched, supported by nurses etc, came crashing down. We were offered crackers and some beverage, asked to relax, The only excitement came when one of our classmates fainted , possibly out of seeing bags of blood getting slowly filled with this really dark stuff, and folks lying on tables.....

One more belief that immediately  hit the trash was the conviction that transfusions happened like they showed in Bollywood movies : two desperate chaps lying on two beds alongside each other, with an actual pipe leading from one guy to a bottle of blood, from where it was delivered to the other guy through another pipe, as assorted relatives, villains, molls, former enemies et al ,stood around with miraculous looks on their faces. We started hearing about packed blood, platelets, plasma and the like.  Life went on. My friends and I donated blood several times after that  Happily.  And the  folks organizing these camps were grateful and appreciative.  

By and by , we all got busy with children, careers, and family matters, and
voluntary donation of blood , kind of took a back seat. But blood remained somewhere in the subconscious.  Organising  requirements of blood , for a friend's husband , scheduled to undergo major heart surgery,  and various people at work started crossing the road when they saw us approaching.  Applauding the concept was one thing. Actually getting poked and drained was a different thing altogether." And think of the diseases. "  
The Internet had just begun, and although Google hadn't been born, Yahoo must have then  been swamped with bloody searches from certain IP addresses.

But we tried. A lot of people listened.
The hospital authorities were overcome with the sheer number of people who came. A lot of young people , students , donated blood for the first time, and felt good about it. Some of them even insisted on donating blood for other patients in the hospital who needed it,  now that my friend's husband's need was fulfilled.  I went up to do my stuff, and came back a disappointed person. I was told my blood was not rich enough in iron, and needed to improve before I could donate again. 
But age was catching up. If haemoglobin didn't get me, age would.

That's where the children came in. Both were now adults. In a world with glitzy contraptions,knowledge factories ,dot-coms, MTV and charmed lifestyles, there needed to be a realization that giving was "cool", more so, than acquiring. And so they came one day, to a blood donation camp with me, and learned how to be useful, while I struggled to understand why I was being rejected , yet,once again. Poor blood. (I don't get published anywhere, but certainly know what a rejection feels like).

 I now  have a year left before age  debars me from donating blood. I recently went with my daughter to a blood donation event on campus. Wide smiles, roses being presented, and incredulity that both of us wished to donate.(With sideways glances at me . Hmm)

I was coming after years. The gentleman who did the preliminary checks, nonchalantly pricked my finger, and dropped a drop of my  poor old doubtful blood into a beaker of copper sulfate. Peered at it, and motioned me to go ahead. I had made it ! The Haemoglobin was behaving itself. After so many years , I was lying on this couch, hands outstretched, and several folks were trying to look for veins, which hitherto had been fairly visible in my arms. 

The mind was at peace. My blood wasn't special, but it flowed on, right into the pack that collected it, and soon joined a large set of anonymous blood bags in the bank maintained by one of Mumbai's biggest public hospitals.

My daughter and I, were both pleased. Me due to my haemoglobin, and she because she was given a special bouquet in honor of being the first woman donor that day. All donors that day received wristwatches with the logo of the company sponsoring the days activities at the hall. I am not sure this commercial intrusion is a welcome thing; but it is a clear indication, that blood is sorely needed by blood banks, they are trying to attract the younger crowd, and there are some folks who are pleased to help to publicize everything.... 

  Over the years, I have had occasion to rush around trying to organize blood for a sick little child as well as for an elderly parent scheduled for a major surgery.
In Mumbai, they will release blood from the blood bank, only if you organize an immediate substitute donation, to keep their supply replenished. Its either you, if you qualify, else, you seek out donors within the available extended family.  But if you have donated blood earlier, and received a data card regarding that, this saves you time, as blood may be obtained against it. What is even nicer, is that this card may even be used  by someone else if you have no use for it .

They will disqualify me in a year. The haemoglobin will find it harder and harder to reach the correct levels. But one thing is certain. There will be some folks within the family, to carry on , er, this bloody tradition......

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The "FSE" and other "arrangements"......संगणकीय बघणे व कांदेपोहे

Scenes from a household. Sometime in the early sixties.

A visit from a family you never met or saw before in your life. A flurry of household cleaning and organizing. The best spreads are on display, textilewise and foodwise.

Cut to the living room, where the elders sit with smug faces like they have been through all this before. The visiting family has one non-smug member , in whose interests this visit is happening. Embroideries on cushions are admired, the mother of the house breathes a sigh of relief that everything is happening as planned. She points out to the curtain where the daughter of the house has excelled at patchwork stuff. a Krishna and Gopi scene. Approving nods, the non-smug member trying to glance through the said curtain, when lo behold, it parts, and a tray of Pohe ( a delicious snack made from pressed rice flakes) appears, followed by a set of bangled arms that belong to a smart girl, who pretends she has made it all herself. Greetings, peripheral glances on the side, and everyone sort of settles down to size each other up. The girl's uncle who is the actual link between the two families, clears his throat, as a preamble, and the system kind of kicks in.

Like the Civil Services, this is like the Family Services Exam(FSE). The girl's education is ascertained, commented upon, and her hobbies are asked, whereupon she is cajoled into breaking forth into a song, and everyone tries to read a secret meaning into it. The visiting boy nods his head in rhythm to hide is nervousness. The food is appreciated, the girls cooking is favorably imbibed, some small talk is made before the boy is asked if he wants to ask her any questions. I have heard of cases where the puffed up chap has asked the girl if she new what metaphysics was. She answered that she was a student of arts, quietly docking off a point against the chap. Some guys ask about hobbies and stuff. At some point the boys mother thinks enough freedom has been granted to the younger members and the visit ends with promises to get in touch.

In the intervening years(70's and 80's), as a concession to the increasing success of women in education, and industry, the Pohe ritual was followed up with letting the two young people talk in a non-parental, non-pohe environment. By and by , this led to the two meeting up several times, on their own, their parents always aware of the meeting times and meeting places. Decisions were reached, expenses and other things discussed and the parental stamp of approval was bequeathed to the couple, among other things from the girl's side to the boy's, which we don't talk about here.

In the 21st century, if you leave aside those marriages that happen between schoolmates, workmates, and folks who meet each other for years together in buses, trains , temples, churches, gyms, saving each other from slipping on banana peels , escalators etc, things haven't changed much.

Today the pohe-ridden living room ritual has been replaced by the emoticon riddled scrap. Scores of young people, whose communication with the opposite sex is restricted to admiring glances from a distance, accompanied by comments amongst friends, lose their inhibition, as they scrap away to glory on social networking sites. You can talk more in scraps to people you half know, than face to face , with people you full-well-know.

A glance at the scraps written by some, and the communities they subscribe to, actually tells you about their mentality. Never mind their posted photos. The language and obssessive attitude reveals all. There is a benefit in knowing all this as opposed to finding out after marriage that the person is a secret creep.

A look at the list of friends and a perusal of their profiles, can tell you, if the person is there for fun, or serious meetings. Sometimes you end up knowing people in common. One step towards the final goal. Birthday greetings. Festival wishes. At some point , a planned accidental meeting after work or class.

We don't have socials ,dances, dating et al, in the sort of milieu in which I live. Communication with the opposite sex is normally innocent,free, and related to your life stage and hobbies, and encouraged.

Like in the West, sometimes, these things go to their logical conclusion. Unlike the West, us middle class types, still frown on singles bars (or any kind of bars), discotheques, weekend outings, and other methods of randomized meeting. Strange , because, in the West, these probably take the place of the Pohe Ritual (without the parents, curtains etc).

At the end of the day, these are "arrrangement" systems, all in place.

East or West, parental concerns are the same. Arrangement systems vary. Degrees of freedom at a given instant in time vary.

In a way, everything is "arranged".

Except the mind of this young girl, impressed with movies, stunned by the articles in magazines, interviews with celebrities, fibs from ambitious friends, blinded by MTV, as she stops while having dinner, gives her parents a surprised look, and says ," But I will not have an arranged marriage.......!"

Saturday, September 06, 2008


I have always wondered if babies in-utero, at full term , could open their eyes and see around them. While we associate seeing with opening of eyes, maybe they do not need to do so, given the neuroplasticity of our brains.

If they could see, they would be awash in a dull colored liquid, and a bit further would probably be layers in various hues of pink with streaks of dark and bright red. Occasionally some dark brown, dull grey, and once it is D-day, it would bright red streaks, pink resting places, white coats around, with steel silver glistening in pans. The only black , brown or golden things would possibly be their own hair, visible only to others.

Then it's a life of blue, pink, and pastel colors, as they endeavour to get ahead in the world, revelling in the green of the gardens, and red, orange, yellow of the flowers, gurgling up at the blue of the sky, as the golden sun slides by, it is evening, and you are taken home, and fed those tasty fruit and vegetable morsels in yellow, and green,purple and orange, everything grandly mixed up in an explosion of good feelings...

There is obviously something missing here. Black. As it should be.

No welcome into the big bad black and white world.

Countries have fought on the basis of black and white. Families have fallen apart on the same basis. Societies who think the world can only be black or white, have had to view rivers of red amidst brown and grey debris.
Men and women unwilling to welcome a tinge of grey into their thinking, have been the curse in society. They say white reflects a hundred percent, and black absorbs, similarly. We don't need this perfection now.

Let the children revel in the colors of the rainbow, nature's variety amidst the woods, bright and sunny futures, and cool and shady homes.

Like I said, something missing here. Black. As it should be.

The only time we pay attention is when it shows up on white, and some one gets up from a rocking chair, picks up a newspaper with a shaking Parkinsonian hand, and says, "So sorry to hear this. He was my friend. Such a colorful chap. Miss him."

(Submitted for Scribbit's September Write Away Contest)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Virtually Real Ganpati Bappa.....बाप्पा मोरया रे .......

Ganpati Bappa had decided on it , long before Dr Douglas Engelbart , invented the keyboard mouse, while working for the Stanford Research Institute. Not one for flying chariots, eagles, and the like ,he decided that the mouse was His vehicle of choice, in his endeavours to preside as the wise and problem solving God.

It's interesting to realize that in today's world, mouse clicking and pointing leads us to huge stores of information, much of which we use for problem solving and research. I can just visualize Ganpati Bappa, popping a delicious 'modak' into the mouth, chuckling and smiling , and patting his mouse on the back, and enjoying his current festival season, as he sees countless devotees rush back to their laptops and pc's after the pujas.....

She was a great admirer and worshipper of Ganpati. Every personal, educational and other milestone that the children achieved in their life, was celebrated, with a thanksgiving puja (service) to Ganpati Bappa. She followed the thanksgiving rituals, more out of a sense of gratitude, and instilling an awareness, than fear or some kind of rigid adherence to rituals. For many years, the short 2 day Ganpati celebration at their house would have a special event of some scholars reciting the Vedas, in unison,and the sound reverberated and percolated in all the nooks and corners of the house. Followed by a delicious repast of traditional seasonal and festival delicacies for everyone.

By and by , her children grew up and had their own celebrations of Ganpati Bappa across the world. After a lifetime of organizing her own Ganpati worship and festivities, she began visiting her daughter, whose children wanted to experience the whole excitement of welcoming, worshipping, celebrating, and then bidding a watery goodbye to Ganpati Bappa on immersion day.

They were relaxing one afternoon after lunch,, admiring the Ganpati decorations done by the children , and talk veered around to the daughter of a family friend, who had had a very complicated limb surgery and was learning to walk again.
This was being done in the face of a lot of questions as it was a sort of surgery that was actually not mandatory, but important to the girl. The girl was very gutsy, and they decided to invite that family over for an evening with their Ganpati Bappa, to coincide, with the girl's maiden outing after her surgery.

By the time the friends arrived, with the girl pushing her self up the ramp with her walker, wincing with pain, albeit happily, the children and grandchildren of the house, had rushed out and organized a cake with the girls name ,with "well done" inscribed on it, and there was much hiding and smiling when she arrived.

Everyone crowded around the girl, and she was completely surprised by the excitement, as they implored her to cut the cake. '

She did so, eyes full, her parents watching indulgently, the younger kids planning on which piece to aim for, and grandma landed up with a silver plate.

"Wait. Lets dedicate this as "naivedyam" (blessed food) and then you can have it. "

Cake ? Naivedyam? Eh ?

They looked at her, perplexed; she of the pujas and yearly Veda recitations, who always insisted on her daily interactions with Him, in a freshly washed cotton saree
, just
pulled from drying on the clothesline; whose pujas were never highly audible to us, but were heard by Those in Whose honor they were done.

"You are celebrating someone's success and progress. While your own effort is very praiseworthy, remember someone Up There, who looks out for you, and remember Him in all your good times. It doesn't matter what the food item is, and what it is made of. It is the thought and faith behind it that makes things sweeter..... Just pray, virtually offer a piece to Ganpati Bappa, and then distribute the stuff."

It simplified a lot of things for her daughter, who was often confused between being religiously correct, correctly religious, following certain prevailing norms, and often reasoning out certain things by herself, in an effort to make religion and spirituality interesting and convincing .

One hears folks doing research on virtual reality today. Virtual has taken on a new meaning in this age of IT.

But thanks to Ganpati Bappa, and his virtual enjoyment of cake , many years ago, that family learned what virtual reality could be. And was. And is.