Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sagunabai in the time of IT.....आयटीच्या युगात सगुणाबाई .......

One of the interesting things about living in, say, Mumbai, is that it brings you in almost daily contact with a lot of folks, you would ordinarily never meet. Right from dawn, when newspapermen and milkmen, cycle around delivering their wares to customers getting organized for a Mumbai morning, to the flower and garland lady who comes around in a whiff of jasmine each evening, delivering our leaf wrapped garlands and flowers for daily worship of the deities, everything happens in a flurry of activity as washing ladies, cleaning ladies, cooking ladies, and in some houses, massage ladies , do their rounds.

While the last is a new and latest addition to services offered , and I see several of these ladies in our building, I have never had the guts to call any one of them for myself; I had called one of them when my late mother visited us , and their wonderful ability at massage was very soothing for 82 year old tired limbs which had hitherto trudged up and down railway station stairs , hurrying to meet the grandchildren....

A side effect of staying put in one community (as on a campus) for several decades means, that you grow old with your daily help. When I first came here, there was an elderly lady called Sagunabai who came to work as my household help. This was the time 35 years ago, when jeans wasn't something newly married women wore. Neither did they charge around on two wheelers, studded with assorted bags full of vegetables , fruits and what have you. While several disapproving glances were cast , noticeably by "high status" folks, Sagunabai thought thought this was really cool.

She was in her 50's then , and her entire family almost had a fit when one evening it was late and I dropped her home, she riding pillion on my two wheeler; she wore a nine yard saree which i consider the actual precursor to the pantsuit, and thus did not sit "side-saddle" like most "respectable" women did; sitting behind me, clutching me around my stomach for dear life, she really enjoyed the trip.

By and by, her eyes started bothering her, and her daughter came to work for me. Sagunabai managed her home, and attended to the various grandchildren who trooped in throughout the day, to eat, study, and generally play while their parents went about their work. Her husband was no more , but he had been an employee of the maintenance department on campus, and his children had enjoyed free education at the school on campus. Sagunabai learned the importance of education , and worked in several house to ensure that even after her husband's death, all her grandchildren too went to school.

Several years passed. I kind of lost touch with her, although I used to get news about her from her daughter. The many grandchildren she mentored (in an age where so many people had no time for their children as they avidly made efforts to double their income), had now grown up, and some of them had learned computers. No degrees or anything but some honest to goodness useful computer skills, and a nodding acquaintance with the fun things you could do.

This included, very unusually, a granddaughter. When time came to arrange her marriage within their community, someone from a good , educated ,family, who had an IT job was most delighted to marry her, and when he went on a posting to Columbus, Ohio, in the US, she went along. (Her family may not be able to name some cities within India, but the entire extended family is now aware of Columbus, Ohio.)

Sagunabai's daughter who helped me in the house would entertain me with updates, and there came a day when the entire extended family of 55 people hired vehicles (they had none of their own), to go to the airport. The grandaughter in the US was pregnant and close to her delivery date. As per tradition, her mother would attend the delivery and help out the first few months, and then return. The family went to see off their maiden voyager to the New World. Speeches, photographs, garlands,
bouquets , at the airport, and the overwhelmed lady, not knowing a word of English, except Please,Thank you, and Sorry, took off.

A month later, Sagunabai lands up.

She had aged, and now wore glasses with thick lenses. She wanted to know if my computer had what she called a "She-dee". Apparently one of her grandsons who had a PC at home was away, and no one knew how to use the PC, and she needed my help. She asked if she could come with some members of her family one afternoon/evening .

I was intrigued. A day was decided upon.

On the appointed day, her extended family trooped in, mostly ladies with children, everyone dressed in their formal best, jabbering away in excitement. Her daughter made tea and snacks for everyone, as Sagunabai took out a large envelope from the blue cloth bag she carried everywhere with her.

"Here's the "she-dee", she said , gingerly placing it in my hands.

I placed it in the drive, as she shush-ed the chattering children and ladies. I had screen saver of a beautiful sunset on the screen, and everyone oohed and aahed as it appeared thinking this was the place where her granddaughter lived. I didn't bother to explain.

The drive activated, and the room went quiet. It was a VCD of some stuff taken on a Handicam , after her daughter reached the US. It was all everyday stuff, the initial part where the pregnant daughter, almost at end-of-term, was being fussed over by her Mom, and then the coming home from hospital with the baby, the new grandmother receiving them at the door with traditional lamps.

There were whoops and "Aaah" and "Aaiya" and "Aggobaya" as the film unfolded in front. The naming ceremony of the baby. The new grandmother organizing the eats with the help of her daughter's American friends , all dressed up in sarees and causing a lot of mirth amongst the audience in my house as the whole thing appeared a bit difficult to handle while carrying plates and stuff. Occasionally the baby thought all this was too much and did some indulgent crying, lapsing away into a dreamy sleep a few minutes later. Traditional songs were sung, the name was whispered into the baby's ear as she lay , eyes wide open in her crib, wondering what all the fuss was all about.

Amidst the chattering and excited jumping around of kids, I watched Sagunabai, as she peered intently at the screen, nodding happily to herself, then slowly lifted her glasses, as she brought up her saree end , to wipe a few tears that threatened to cascade.

"But what name did they give the baby ?" asked one of the ladies.

Sagunabai was overcome. I asked the ladies to watch the screen. I had seen a board with a name on it in a corner of the room, and it was yet to come up in the event. After a bunch of songs, two young girls from the neighbors who attended, picked up the board, and held it up for everyone to see, the name written in English and in Marathi(my mother tongue).

Sagunabai, could neither read nor write, never having gone to school herself. So she couldn't read the name. It was only when the children shouted out the name that she smiled, a wide toothless smile, that lit up her eyes, and she came up to me at the PC, and patted my back as if I had something to do with it all.

"Asha Vidya, that's a wonderful name. They couldn't agree on a single name so they gave her two!" She nodded at the assembled ladies. Everyone fell quiet. Saturated with the event, thousands of miles away.

Sagunabai sat down next to the PC, crosslegged , on the floor. And then there was a sharp earthy voice, crooning.

Crooning a lullaby to the baby asleep in its crib on the screen. There is something called "Palna" that is a lullaby cum sort of song-of-honor, sung by the immediate relatives for the baby. The song was well known one, and no one had a dry eye, as Sagunabai, in her thick lenses, a tear cascading down one cheek, proceeded to the last stanza. The child was 12,000 miles away and this was all not happening in real time, but to everyone in the room it was real. Virtually real.

Sagunabai suddenly snapped out of it, reminded the children that there were plates and cups to be picked up, and taken inside before they left, and came to me as I removed the "she-dee" to give it back to her, and congratulated her on her wonderful great granddaughter.

"So how did you like the name " she asked.

I had no words. I gave her a small statue of Saraswati, the Hindu Goddess of Knowledge, and wished her well.

Hope (Asha) and Knowledge(VIdya) was what her effort in life, was all about , post her husband's death. The illiterate but strong minded lady, had seen her own family through tough times, and her children's children went to school and did so well, she was proud of them. They were her Hope, and she hoped, that along with this new addition, the new generation would strive to learn more and more at the hands of the Knowledge Goddess.

If she had taken a look at the statue , she would have probably seen a smile on the face of the statue. Sagunabai had ALL the right knowledge , and she was doing a fine job teaching her family about it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Bodyline,Headline, Mindline.......लक्ष्मण रेषेच्या पलिकडे ........

This is a nation where on a scorching bright weekend afternoon , almost throughout the year, you can see a gaggle of 8-9 year olds, playing cricket in a clearing . It could be a narrow gap between building in a typically urban milieu. It could be something next to a garbage dump, and it could be a rolling plain on the banks of a river miles away from the nearest town. They may or may not have gear, and stumps are often the fenders of a parked car, a sitting ruminating cow in a rural field, 3 lines drawn on a wall, a gnarled tree stump, a biggish tin box or even sometimes, school bags piled on each other, with a fine disregard for impending maths homework. Boundary lines sometimes extend into rivers, heavily trafficked roads, or even someones living room, sometimes even when its the only room in the house .Occasionally, folks passing by will stop to admire some one's bowling action or the effortless sweep of a fellow barely taller than the stumps, and then suddenly swerve as a ball barely misses them .

The guys may not know their geography (as they have left school to work and supplement the family income), or they may be fellows who spend every summer in a different country with their corporate honcho parents. But A lot of the chaps are dedicated followers of current world players, and I personally know one fellow, who admires Brett Lee so much, that every time he runs in to bowl while playing with his friends, he will give a self commentary , like, "Brett Lee, bowling from the pavilion end, right arm round the wicket......blah blah blah.... and Sachin sweeps. Symonds chasing the ball, yes, yes, no,. no, ....and its a four !" My son at a similar age, 21 years ago, would only answer , at one time, if you called him"Maninder Singh" who was a favourite bowler at that time. There is an entire generation of these folks pretending to be Jonty Rhodes, Lance Kluesner, even Shane Warne. And never mind that cannot spell the names.

What I have found interesting, is no one pretends to be Sachin Tendulkar.
The entire nation , cricketing and non-cricketing, holds him in great esteem, a fact unsurpassed in cricketing history of this country.

More than half a century ago, a bunch of chaps in white flannels, bats, balls, 3 stick sets and a few devious calculating minds , set sail from the Mother Country, to challenge the teams Down Under, which were lead by the totally revered and incomparable Don Bradman. The Mother Country players, had a few secrets, besides skills in cricket. They specialized in aiming the ball at susceptible parts of the batsman's body, or bowling in such a way, that attempting to hit would injure the batsmen. Cricket writers and purists went ballistic with the accusation of Bodyline Bowling. The sport had become a one sided ugly fight. The bullies were not admired.

Several decades later, a team from one of the Mother country's ex-colonies, India, went for an away-series to the West Indies. Those were the days of sparse foreign exchange allowances,virtually no support staff, insufficient team clothes, making do with ordinary kits, and helmets were then worn only in movies like Ben Hur . No correlation whatsoever ,existed then, between helmets and cricket.

A gentleman ,then, by the name of, Gilchrist (more about that later), had a bowling action, which was , to say the least, alarming. But those days NOT being the days of, attaching-electrodes-to-folks-and-bending-arms-less-than-15-degrees, cribbing about subcontinental bowling action, and say, third umpires, no one paid any attention, so long as wickets kept coming. (On an earlier Home game in Amritsar ,India, Glichrist, incensed at a player called Swaranjit Singh making light of his speed bowling, decided to teach him a lesson and bowled and injured the guy with a beamer, despite warnings from his own captain, and was sent back home). It so happened that the then Captain of the Indian team Nari Contractor, was at the non strikers end then. Later in the West Indies , during the away-game, Contractor got hit on the head by a Griffith (another fast bowler) delivery, was seriously injured, operated upon with a shaky prognosis, , and had to compulsorily end a promising cricketing career. It created a sensation and panic here, changed a familiy's life, and I prefer to think of it as the second in a series of dangerous happenings.

Headline. After Bodyline .

The last few decades have been relatively more organized cricket decades. Cricket control bodies of various countries communicate with each other. Disagreements are solved in civilized ways. When tempers flare and aggression hits the ceiling, you don't need to fling the cricket ball at someones face or head. For one thing, helmets rule. Some wise people decided to put microphones near the stumps and in addition to detecting bat-ball sounds, it can also pickup words one wouldn't use in civil company, forget them being broadcasted worldwide.

And so the war, if you might call it that, now strays away from the 22 yards

So we come come to Mindline. The third in the series of Bodyline and Headline.

In Mindline , you play mind games. That, of course, assumes that a thinking mind exists. Cricket as a game is today played on the field, as well as in the mind. When the two teams playing come from cultures of extremely different origins, things get even more confusing. Some teams may prefer to drown their considerable tears in mugs of beer, some may go fishing, and so on. Some may just shut their cricket minds and open their other minds and enjoy the Taj Mahal. Some teams may brood and get deeper into trouble. Some may get militant and aggressive.

Sometimes it has something to do with the name Gilchrist. A guy who declares himself out, as the ball scrapes past an inside edge of his bat, and starts the walk back to the pavilion. Everyone applauds his "sportsmanship". But wait. The same guy is often seen hiding behind the opposition batsmen, crouching and jumping to appeal alternately, whether or not the bat and ball ever met. An opposition batsmen often returns to the pavilion while the great sportsman wicket keeper remorselessly crouches again, ready to make another fake appeal. And everyone applauds his loyalty to the bowling team. Truth be damned.

And so we get cricket match referees (with varying sharpness of sight and perception of color), self righteous, demanding, scheming cricket associations, and when all this becomes too much, they even throw in a New Zealand High Court judge to decide the rights and wrongs.

You would have thought the matter ended there.


The second Gilchrist, answering to the name of Adam, retires in a blaze of glory and adulation, then plays in a Subcontinental Cricket league for a huge compensation, and decides to write a book. (Even I wanted to write one). He times the publication to coincide with the festival break during the current India Australia series, where Australia just happen to have lost a game, where one of the members of the opposing team , Sachin Tendulkar, just became the world's highest run getter in test cricket, at 12,000+ runs. So far so good.

At this point Gilchrist slips. These are not mindgames he plays. These are lies. He accuses Sachin Tendulkar of lying. In front of a judge. A New Zealand High Court Judge, who was acceptable to the Australians. Whose verdict was gracelessly accepted by the then concerned members of the team attending the hearing, , which did not include the aforementioned Gilchrist. Then he also comments on Sachin's unwillingness or inability to walk into opposition dressing rooms to shake hands after a game.

Hello. The game ended on the field. Teams came out to shake each others bruised hands at the end of it all. Anything more is a cultural thing. And it is expected that someone like Gilchrist, who has played so much in so many countries would try and understand from other cultures too.

At the end of the day, Sachin Tendulkar, who is renowned for his balance both on and off the field, ignores these mindgames. He treats these things the way he treats balls bowled by sledging bowlers; whips them for a six.

All the talking is being done now by Gilchrist. And his publishers. But he has hurt an entire nation. Sachin is aware of words in English as well as his native language(s). Gilchrist is not. That's why the new Zealand judge believed Sachin.

This Mindline word bowling must stop. No one gets up and makes false accusations against Sachin and gets away with it. He is a unique phenomenon in Indian, nay world sport. It is incidental that he plays cricket. But young and old, men and women, couch potatoes and athletes, corporate honchos and tattered paupers, celebrities and the common troubled man on the road, all look up to him for his impeccable behaviour on and off the field. Even the great Don Bradman sensed his specialness and expressed a desire to meet him. Sachin felt extremely honored and respectfully flew specially to Sydney for that.

Here is a player, that Australians stand up and applaud, every time he walks in to bat. We in India appreciate this gesture from the public of a great sporting nation.

Maybe we need to come to the end-of-the-line.

Whether it is Bodyline, Headline or Mindline.

The only thing that matters should be the crease-line. And remaining within it, really or vrtually.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Tailor's tale..........कुणाचा देश कुणाचें माप ......

Tailors have been an integral part of every Indian life, particularly , if you inhabit the middle classes.

With the advent of globalization (how I am fed up of that word), India was swamped by Malls. The young buying public thronged at the ready-to-wear places, oohing and aahing over various types of jeans, and displayed , in this process, as amazing capacity for being fooled. There is just so much a company can do with two legs, a waist, and several different shapes and numbers of pockets. But see these with fancy labels, (possibly printed in USA , otherwise known to many as Ulhasnagar Sindhi Association), in a store with "minimalistic" decor , blue walls, and anorexic saleswomen urging you to try a "relaxed fit" branded pair-of-jeans, and you feel like laughing at the young woman who is telling her friend , on her Rs 27,000 latest camera phone, about these real cool jeans she is getting so cheap, for Rs 2000. Only.

If you are also on the wrong side of middle age in addition to being middle class, its time to think back to what are, obviously, the middle ages. ....

In my childhood, every family , along with a milkman, a daily vegetable vendor, a newspaper delivery person, daily household help, routine bicycle repairer, flower vendor for pooja(prayers and worship), trusted old jeweller (for special occasions), etc, also had one or more family tailor. Mostly , there were different tailors for men and women, and my mother was known to have been fairly successful at convincing a " men's" tailor to stitch night pajamas for my brother and me, when we were children ( and didnt have much of a say). Whats more , the tailor came home to take your measurements, amidst folks urging you to "stand straight', "yes, make it a bit longer", and other assorted pieces of advice. Girls had much more fun than boys, simply because of the larger variety of outfits they had. In those days, we secretly admired our Anglo-Indian teachers in our English medium schools, who wore frocks and "tight" (read straight) skirts, and kind of gave up in despair over the parental insistence on "decent" flared and gathered skirts, well below the knees, always with pockets for some reason; occasionally, frills in unusual places, caused a bit of an alarm.

Today, no tailors have the time or inclination to come home and do business. A typical tailor's shop will have several chaps sitting at sewing machines, industriously converting yardage into wearable items, There is always , what can be called a "managing tailor".H e is the guy who stands behind the main table out in front, a metre tape around his neck, a marking chalk in one hand, and a big pair of scissors in another. Around him are strewn various catalogues displaying beautiful, and sometimes, not so beautiful women in a variety of Indian outfits, some regional, some common to the whole country. There is usually a gaggle of young girls turning these pages, and trying to choose some outrageous cut or neckline (now that their mother is not accompanying them). They tell the tailor what they want, he advises on sufficiency of cloth, prospective drape of the cloth , his relative making charges, and measurements are taken, a receipt given , promising the finished piece on a certain day. The young girls walk out with stars in their eyes.

Wasimbhai was someone who started out with a small shop in our neighbourhood. One of his relatives, also a tailor, emigrated to the Middle East, and he took over the shop. He obviously had some family resources, because he was soon able to get larger premises where he also started stocking material from which you could choose. A whole bunch of clients of the old tailor started going to Wasimbhai.

All kinds of folks came to him. Ladies in chiffon, whose drivers double parked as they glided into his shop , a gaggle of college friends urging their conservative friend to try a bolder fashion, middle aged types to whom the biggest thrill was replacing a round neck with a V-neck, and even my local vegetable vendor lady who wanted her daughter to have some "fancy" clothes in the "wedding trousseau". Everyone who communicated and conversed with Wasimbhai about their stuff, got individualized attention, including escalation or downsizing of fees as and how he thought fit.

Wasimbhai is s devout Moslem. If you ever go to his shop at midday on a Friday, you never see him. He always goes for the Friday prayers at the nearby mosque at noon, leaving his shop in the care of his assistants. He fasts during the holy month of Ramzaan. He has introduced a second floor above his shop, where the real nitty gritty work is done, with some guys going full blast on their sewing machines, while some younger types, sit cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by items that need careful hand stitching.

What is unusual is that Wasimbhai has now introduced two of his nieces into the shop. His clientele is completely female, and while he alone is in charge of taking measurements , and accepting orders from customers, it so happens that while trying out a stitched item, occasionally a lady may be tongue tied explaining the problem to , say, a man. Here is where his nieces are a godsend. They sort of hover respectfully around the shop, mostly in awe of their strict uncle, helping customers, showing new materials , discussing the fit with finicky customers and translating the cribs to their uncle, Wasimbhai.

I have seen him give the same detailed attention, if not more, to a housemaid, getting festival clothes stitched for her daughter from her hard-earned savings, as to a society matron who arrives in a whiff of perfume, and a minion carrying a bag with 5 yardage pieces ready to be stitched . The interesting thing is his study of what constitutes decency in fashion as a function of economic strata. Thanks to Indian movies , and the sometimes disastrous fashions that become popular, he is often faced with young girls insisting on deep cuts and fashions that indicate the non existence,, say, of a back. Some mothers, who never went to school ever, and now have college going daughters, cannot counter with anything when the daughters insist that this is how the things are today. This is when , Wasimbhai notices the troubled mother, and looking down at the cloth, he will measure this way and that, and casually say that the existing material doesn't allow for such and such cut. The girls actually listen. And the mothers are grateful. With the chiffon set, the mothers themselves suggest outrageous fashions, based on the milieu in which they move. Its a totally different ball game, and Wasimbhai simply listens to them and keeps his opinions to himself.

There are some older women who are so young in mind, they actually confuse it with body, and so blinded are they by the ladies giving poses in catalogues, that they insist on outrageous fashions , regardless of their size. I have observed Wasimbhai, handle this too, bringing up other catalogues, to show other patterns, and praising some, to draw attention away, from what he thinks is a disastrous choice.

The only people he indulges are little girls. They always want flares,frills and bows, and he talks to them seriously while taking measurements. I once came up with some measurements by email , to stitch a surprise traditional outfit for my niece in the US, and he spent considerable time planning the whole thing, thinking about making the thing expandable in view of a growing age, suggested attaching some intricate embroidered borders and so on.

What was really interesting was when we had a visitor from Israel and he was accompanied by his wife. They were a bit older to us, being in their late and middle sixties. While the gentleman busied himself with his professional discussions, I was in charge of showing the lady around. We did the usual Mumbai sightseeing stuff, and she was enthused about Indian clothes and wanted to get things made.

I ride a two wheeler most of the time, and since it is more useful on the roads where the tailor shop was, I took her , riding pillion on my vehicle.

While she was absolutely delighted with this unexpected turn of , should I say , the gearbox, most of Wasimbhai's upstairs staff was stunned, as they gathered at a window, to see a golden haired elderly lady arriving , riding pillion behind one of their most square and conservative clients.

Typical of the tailor, he let us wander around his shop looking at and selecting materials, while he attended other folks who were already there, and were a bit apprehensive of our arrival creating a delay. My guest wanted a couple of Indian outfits and one western pant suit stitched. A lot of rifling through fashion catalogues, selecting and deselecting stuff , we finally finalised her choices, and she submitted to being measured for the outfits, instructing me in middle eastern accented English, on stuff to be conveyed to Wasimbahi.

This was all happening at 11 am.

He asked me when we wanted the outfits. Asked us to call by 5 pm the same day and check with him if the were ready. (Maybe he had done this for other folks before and noticed that these were short-term visitors)

My guest was absolutely dumbstruck. I was absolutely thunderstruck myself by the fact that he didn't charge her anything extra for the superfast service, than he would have charged anyone else, like the chiffoned and perfumed ladies. My guest again insisted on doing the two wheeler thing on our way to collect the items in the evening. Given the complete chaos on the roads outisde our campus, this must have been a not so pleasant experience, but the thrill of getting her made to order outfits was too much.

The outfits were duly collected, carefully packed in bags announcing the shop's name in bright red, with address/phone numbers etc. We turned to go, with some decent work accomplished, with me thinking about whether the lady sitting behind would be able to manage the packages as I dodged the unruly traffic while crossing on my two wheeler, when she turned around, waived her hand at Wasimbhai, and said "Khuda Hafiz !"......

He took a moment to recover. Couldn't believe what he heard. Then amidst smiles from his nieces and assorted customers watching all this drama, he respectfully wished her "Khuda Hafiz".

He didn't know she was from Israel, and was culturally attuned to the middle eastern ethos. She had heard him talking to his assistants and nieces, and probably surmised that he was a Moslem.

I didn't bother to clarify anything to anyone. When there was so much to unite all, why bring in something to divide?

It was just two civilized folks being very grateful to each other, he for giving him her business, and she , for his wonderful work in making the stuff available to her so fast.

Wasimbhai sometimes talks about this , on some of my occasional visits to his shop on, maybe, slack days, when he is a bit more free. About the Khuda Hafiz lady.

She has been telling all her friends worldwide about her most memorable event in India....the sensational two wheeler ride through chaotic traffic, and custom clothes made for her in India.

If only folks were so understanding across the world, it would be a such a better place..........

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lighting up lives ......अशीही एक दिवाळी

Festival days around the corner. And so along with giving the house a decent swipe with brooms,mops and assorted cleaning agents, its time again to get organized with the various savouries and sweets we make at Divali.

At one time, Divali , described as a festival of lights, was not very well known across the world, but greatly celebrated by all Indians no matter where they lived. By and by, the number of Indian folks in other countries grew, and even started having some influence there. Which probably explains, why, George W Bush even sends "Divali Greetings" in his speeches, to Asian Indians (maybe most of them Republican) around this time.

Today, along with the globalization of Divali, India is now firmly entrenched in what may be called the Mall culture; in most metro cities , you get junk mail announcing all kinds of sales, of basically clothes and electronic items. For Divali only......

And thousands of paper-and-plastic-endowed folks rush to grab whatever they can. Clothes and utility machines have stopped being a need. You now need to dress, to be fashionably casual as you disdainfully drop your dirty clothes into a washing machine that thinks fuzzily, and angrily rumbles and whirls, as you settle down to watch a DVD on a flat screen contraption , that covers half your wall, and never mind that you have no place for bookshelves.

I was examining a contraption that we use to make something called Chakli, when I suddenly realized that the disc at the end of the rod (that got inserted in a cylindrical holder), had got separated. It wasn't something that got fixed with a nut and screw, so I took it to the nearest utensil shop. In a nouveau-riche moment, they said they didn't do such repairs.

And so I landed up at the shop belonging to Hites(h). The second H , silent.

Hitesh never went to school. But went trailing after his father who was a old-newspaper-dealer (" raddiwala") here. These guys bought old newspapers from you and marketed them to those needing them, like paper mills, packaging folks and stuff. His father also bought old appliances, ramshackle furniture, old watches etc from folks. Mostly non working.

And young Hitesh spent his growing years fiddling around with these things and developing a unique technological perspective on things. His father's shop was in the path of the new arterial road, and the municipal compensation allowed them to get a slightly larger shop elsewhere. Hitesh started out with a shop dedicated to repair of pressure cookers. Slowly the paper trade reduced, and today, his shop is always crowded, as women throng there with various non functioning blenders,food processors,ovens, stoves. In addition, he always stocked a huge supply of what could be called generic,nonbranded items of household use.

It was amazing to observe how things worked. He had an endless supply of all kinds of spares stocked in faded plastic containers, all around the shop. No doubt manufactured by innovative folks with still more innovative machines, and a fine sense of what fits where, somewhere in the hinterland. It didn't matter to Hitesh, if you came in with a GE, a Westinghouse, and Oster, a Kenstar or a flourishing local brand. It didn't matter if you arrived wearing chiffon in a chauffeur driven car , or huffing and puffing after a tangle with a crowd in a municipal bus.

He treated everyone with the same courtesy. The assumption was that it would be repaired.

There wasn't any token or queue system here. You sort of appeared at his shop. Regardless of a throng, his alert eyes noticed a new comer, and asked what the problem was. He nodded, asking about it, simultaneously plugging in someone else's electrical item to check continuity, and nodding to an assistant who was confirming some money ,to be paid back to someone else; in a fine display of multitasking that should have him giving seminars at B-schools.

I appeared with my very simplistic, non fashionable, no-name,mechanical, small contraption amidst all these power-items. Waited for the crowd to thin a bit. Hitesh appreciated that.

There was another family left, an old lady with her recently married daughter. They were looking at blenders. He told them the price and the old lady's face fell. They were speaking in a language different from mine, but such is the effect of Mumbai, that you end up understanding whats being said regardless. The lady was looking for something to be presented to her daughter's in-laws.

At this point it needs to be explained that in India, Divali and in-laws are kind of connected. The married daughter's first Divali at her in laws is a BIG thing. Her folks give presents. And despite legislation, social movements, et al, parents consider it very important that a decent gift is given.

There was some explanation going on. The old lady, putting aside her own pride explained the circumstances to Hitesh. Her daughter, confused and distraught, stood by, with a covered head. Her father was scheduled to have some surgery and they had set aside money for it. They would only be able to pay for this blender in installments. Maybe he should show them a cheaper variety, they said.

Hitesh nodded. More to himself, as if he just decided something. Amidst all those grayish containers filled with nuts, screws,washers,pins,rings etc of various sizes,makes, and colors, he climbed on something to drag down a packing box. Put the blender inside.

" You take this, Mother. " he said. And got busy with the contraption I had brought in.

The old lady shook her head trying to explain. Her eyes welled up. Her daughter put a comforting arm around her shoulders. The old lady opened her cotton bag which held her traditional embroidered money purse. Started counting out fifty rupee notes of which she would need at least twenty, if not more. Her hands shook. The surgery would have to wait. ....

"Did I ask you for the money, ma ? You can pay me next month. Its Ok. "

The proud lady was in tears. Hitesh pretended to be absorbed in finding some spare part for some item below the counter.

" Look, ma. Leave your address here. If you are too busy, give me a call, and I will come and collect the amount next month. Your Divali is my Divali. So take this blender which you have liked, and have a grand first Divali for your daughter and son-in-law. "

The details recorded,their faces confirming the existence of Someone-Up-There-Looking-Out-For-Them, the lady and her daughter left, a smile in their full eyes, and both carrying the biggish box.

Hitesh was doing something to the Chakli contraption and had a sad smile on his face.

" See, I don't have a sister. My mother passed away several years ago. And I am so busy in the shop, I almost never celebrate a proper Divali. ". He got out some pliers, and pulled out a pin from somewhere that was holding things from functioning properly.

" I just decided on the spur of the moment, that this mother's and daughter's Divali would be my own. I would have done the same for my sister if I had one." He got out a hammer and gently hammered something into place , after checking the positioning.

Handing me the chakli machine, now working, he said " Its no big deal. My job is to do my work, honestly, and to the best of my ability. "Baki sab Uparwala deta hai " (Everything else is given to us by Someone Up There)...

Divali is yet a week away. My machine has been repaired by Hitesh. I will probably spend the next week, making all the usual savouries, sending cards, making last minute repairs to something that needs to be worn by my daughter, on a specific day....... Folks will visit us, lamps will be lit, rangolis drawn on the floor.

Something tells me I have left something out.

Divali is all about being Hites(h). The second h, silent. And all of him, silently telling us what the festival is all about.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fruits of life.......कधी फळांची पारख , कधी माणसांची ...

I grew up in Pune, and have always considered myself a Puneite regardless of life stage and current domicile. My parental abode is in Pune, and I still go back there, a few times a year, sometimes for some family paperwork, sometimes for a social occasion and sometimes, because it draws me there, even though my parents are no more.

Right in the heart of the city, is what is called the Mandai, or the main organized vegetable market, a heritage structure, from the days of the British in India.

My earliest childhood memories are of accompanying my mother to this place , for the weekly shopping. Another of my childhood memories has to do with the very different take my mother had on food and diet, compared, to say, my friends' families. Thanks to an exposure and a degree (child development and nutrition) from Columbia University , back in the fifties, I was an avid guinea pig available to my mother, for trying out, what worked and what didn't.

Suryanamaskars on waking, skipping and then a glass of milk. Get organized for school. Bread, which was hitherto becoming popular then as a breakfast item, was tolerated occasionally only as a veggie sandwich, loaded with vegetables and chutneys. Sugary jams were frowned upon. Our breakfast was some fragrant and fresh moong dal khichdi with a spoon of homemade ghee, lemon pickle, with poha papad
(made from pressed unpolished rice flakes).

Accompanied by freshly manually squeezed orange juice. ( Nobody had juicers and blenders then).

And it is for these oranges, that we made these trips with our mother to the Mandai or central market.

In those days, my parents had a Hillman car, of a colour you wouldn't be seen in today. What made the car more unusual is the fact that my mother drove it everywhere. Few folks had cars, ladies did not go around driving cars all over town, they were driven. The horn was freely used, sometimes for the people on the road, sometimes for moral support to yourself, sometimes just for comfort, but it was a working system. People used to look on in complete awe as my mother changed gears, went back and forth, parked the car, and emerged from it, adjusting a sari, along with us in tow.

There used to be people available , who you could hire , for carrying the stuff that you would buy, and in our house, we children would vie with each other to carry the stuff in the market. (Ever since then , I have an inexplicable aversion to situations where you walk ahead in the market, followed, a few respectable steps behind, by a helper lady, who carries your shopping load. This is a practice still followed by many, and is supposed to be sign of coming up in the world, prosperity, the rise in your status etc etc. Today, I insist on carrying all my stuff, even at the cost of becoming clavically disbaled, so to speak. Of course, the children help when they are around).

We used to go with our mother to the market to get oranges (actually big tangerines , which are called oranges here), from the wholesale market, and they came in a wooden crate, which is where the children came in.

Those were the days when the merchants were simple farmer folk, who knew you by name, recognized your children by sight, and talked with you about their children, your children, their joys and worries , as well as yours. A particular vendor , hailing from the outskirts of Pune , was a favourite orange supplier, and whenever we were present we always got an extra pomegranate or something, as a special thing from him. My mother was great friends with this person, and would always enquire after his children and wife, and fields. He in turn had this great admiration for the "gadiwali bai" (Lady with the car), and he often admired my mother's judgement and selection of fruit.

Years passed. During the eighties, my children often accompanied their grandmother, and by this time the old man knew our complete family history, of which child was where, doing what, how many children and so on and so forth. Both my mother and he were now old. His grandson was now managing the stall, and he would sit around for old times sake. Very particular about how you behaved with the customers, he trained his grandson very well, and was so proud of him, and would tell my mother about all the progress. My mother was , for a while, one of the trustees (the first woman trustee) of one of our famous ancient temples in Pune, , and this man was really proud of the fact that she was selected to help in what he called "God's work".

A couple of years ago, my mother was no more, my father was very sick, and I went with my daughter to the market to look for some good fruit for him, which could be juiced. I wandered in to the old familiar area, looking at the recent changes, and some new smart-alecky vendors on the scene. Memories flooded back, and I was looking around for a straw of memory to clutch, when I heard someone calling out my mother's name.

It was the old man. His vision was not what is was. But he saw a resemblance somewhere. He thought I was who he thought I was, but wanted to confirm, and so he asked his grandson to call out.

For a while , none of us could speak. My daughter wondered how her mother, to whom bargaining was second nature , was so quiet. He asked after my folks and when he heard why I was there, he took it upon himself to select the best fruit, often replacing stuff his grandson had casually selected. All the while talking about my mother, and asking about where the rest of the family was. He even knew that my siblings were in "Amerika", and recalled seeing their children with my mother, at the market, on one of their visits. When he heard that my son too was pursuing a doctorate , he thought it was in the fitness of things. He didn't really go to school himself, but had a great respect for learning and anyone who did serious studying. His grandson had finished school on his insistence, and only then come along to learn the business.

I was about to leave. I wished him well, did namaskar (an Indian way of greeting, with palms touching each other), when he stopped me.

"You know, your mother had a very good judgement of "excellence in fruit". She selected so well. It was something intrinsic to her. As a farmer and a fruit vendor it was a joy to do business with her. I think you have picked up some of it. Good to see that.....but you will get better with practice....." . Saying so, he handed a mango to my delighted daughter, and the the old , simple, formally uneducated man, closed his eyes, and proceeded to quote a verse from the compositions of one of Maharashtra(our state)'s most revered saints, Tukaram. It had something to do with the effort and ability to judge good fruit, and good fruit of good deeds, and with all the so called "education" that I have had, it wouldn't have occurred to me to associate all these things together....

I swallowed, totally humbled.

Nodded to him and left. My daughter and I came home with the fruit

My father enjoyed the juice .

I like to think, that besides, the taste, and the color and the pulp, there was a little something more in that fruit, that made my father happy that day.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Whistle blowing......वाहतुक , मी अणि शिट्टी

Gotcha ! Ha ha. (Not that I am her fan (far from it), but ever since Sarah Palin popularized "Betcha!" as part of mainstream vice presidential vocabulary, I've been dying to say something similar, just for fun. I am not running for anything, except, probably the bus. But more about that below. ).

This really is about blowing whistles. Real ones , not idiomatically.

Our roads in Mumbai , now figure on world records.

In the meanwhile, I have heard motorcycle aficionados say things.

Four wheels move the body. Two wheels move the soul.

Well, one wheel comes close to crushing my left toe. ( We will talk about 3 wheels later).

The arterial road outside the campus where I live, continues to be marked for redevelopment and widening, for the last several years. While it may make municipal folks living in South Mumbai
, feel important , as they pour over road development maps and plans, for what they may consider, the deplorable suburbs going to seed, etc etc., there has been a completely unexpected benefit from all this, for the common man and woman, in terms of quick reflexes and alertness.And we dont really speak of certain law enforcement folks , who have, in this case, what may loosely be described as a Midas touch.

What do you do, when 6 lanes of speeding , fairly random traffic, of various sizes and power, is suddenly forced into 2 lanes , that too, on a turning? What do you do when pavements and footpaths, hitherto a sign of civilized road development, are dug up with a vengeance, leading one to wonder if they expect a fortune to appear in barrels underground?

The walk to the market to get items of household and kitchen use, has become like a obstacle race. Most motorcycle riders have now perfected the art of overtaking the rest of the traffic from the left, tickled no end about the small width of their motorcycle. (
We are a country that drives on the left; hangovers from the Raj. )

I was returning from a trip to a rather posh suburb of Mumbai
, by bus. The bus, generally kind of hesitantly stops at a stop, and sometimes even doesn't, unless you stand close to the exit door, and tell the driver, after having huffed, puffed, squeezed and sworn your way through a mass of people in the bus aisle, that gives a new meaning to "no free space". Just when you reach the third and last step of the bus, and are about to hit Terra firma, there is a recurring revving to your left, and an apparition with a helmet, on a motorcycle, if you are lucky, stops a centimetre away from your toe.

When this happened too many times, I took to carrying a whistle in my purse. One of the few things that has actually become cheaper during the current meltdown.

But look at the irony. The next time I had to get down, folks were treated to an aunty
type person, laden with bags, whistle in the mouth, adjusting bags on the shoulder (akin to getting organized for war). As the bus asymptotically stopped, I leaned out and stepped down , blowing my whistle. The motorcycle person stopped dead in his tracks, speechless with rage , shocked by the spectacle, but so did a lot of the traffic ahead of the bus.

The bus driver from his seat on a height , higher up than the rest, saw a traffic cop looking quizically, walking over.(The cop presumably hadn't known another "cop" was around). The bus driver quickly motioned me to hide my whistle and carry on on my way home, before the cop noticed this unplanned stop.

Sometimes you have to do petty crimes to stay alive.

Another time, I was standing respectfully at a distance at our Institute gate, waiting for the light to change so I could cross the road. We stand there for ages, watching the light change to amber , organizing ourselves to accelerate our feet as it turns green for us, and red for the other traffic.

Unfortunately, a three wheeler rickshaw behind me was doing the same.

The minute the light turned red for the main road, , the three wheeler revved up behind me, crashed into gear, started forward, and took a sharp left, coming from my right. Just as I was about to cross, I felt a hand emerge from the passenger side of the three wheeler, and I was rudely pushed back. Stumbling, , half falling, I shouted at the guy to ask him what he thought he was up to. And I was told in no uncertain terms,
that he pushed me to save my toes being run over by a three wheeler; and never mind that he could have taken a wider turn.

In the meanwhile the main lights changed to green , and the impatient traffic on n-wheels, continued its relentless flow down the road. While some folks came up to check if I was OK, others speculated from a distance , whether it actually served me right, for being in such a hurry; The watchman looked on in boredom; this probably happened several times daily.

What this does to you, is it makes your reflexes very sharp. Sometimes too sharp. You suspect everyone. The entire family of 15, stuffed in a van on its way to a wedding, the corporate type pretending to read a paper while having serious economic discussions on his cell phone (prey, whats the use now?), while his driver swears at the traffic (and probably me), few private taxis taking people to the airport, a lady in her small compact car carrying the not so compact week's supply of fruits and vegetables back to her apartment, and before we forget, an entire hoard of two and three wheelers, which I am convinced, are bearing down on me. Guilty until proven innocent.

After hearing of someone whose fluttering
dupatta (long scarf worn across your front and shoulders)
got stuck in a passing motorcycle (but luckily left the lady traumatically dupatta-less), as she stood on a central divider while crossing, I have now taken to folding mine and sticking it in a bag as i cross the road.

The interesting thing is none of these motorcycles and rickshaws get caught for what they do , which may euphemistically called, driving. Like I said, the cops haul them over to the side of the road, and demand to see papers. Some types of rectangular papers, make these cops feel they have the Midas touch.

In the meanwhile, if you see a tired, middle aged
, bag-laden, lady trying to hesitantly cross the road , stuffing her dupatta in a bag, with a whistle in her mouth and anger in her eyes, and you find no one listening, then please, do step on the brakes.

I even wonder sometimes, if the road development project will get done in my life time.

In the meanwhile, it has occurred
to me , that , sometimes you have to be a whistle blower to succeed ......

Friday, October 10, 2008

Digitally Dark and Lovely......बदलतीचे रंग, मनातले रंग.....

If you play the word association game with the words "dark and lovely", specifically amongst folks from India (possibly my age, though I am unsure about the newer IT generation), I am willing to wager anything, that nine out of ten folks will quote the poem by Robert Frost, that every Indian knows was the late PM Jawaharlal Nehru's favourite :

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
and miles to go before I sleep,

and miles to go before I sleep.

If the game participants were to be international, the associations would be drastically different. Besides the woods, there are lots of other things that are dark and lovely. People. Women. Etc.

But for some companies , the phrase is almost persona non grata.

"Fair and lovely" is a complexion cream marketed by Unilever in the Indian market. The ads show various girls turning lighter, around several shades in , say 7 days, and going on to become air hostesses, actresses and so on, teaching a lesson to folks who initially rejected them.

Another facial bleach cream shows a darkish lady sitting in economy class in a plane , whereupon, the oxygen mask falls only in front of her. (her face is dark, the bleach has oxygen and she turns fair on applying the bleach. Voila ! No oxygen mask, and her neighbor smiles at her........)

Notwithstanding the crass stupidity in these ads, it is very clear, that the majority of the Indians have an obsession with fairness. As in complexion. (And we wont say anything about matrimonial ads. Everyone looks for "fair and homely".... as if "dark and homely" are mutually exclusive)

This then, doesn't remain "fair" at all , to those, who are, are melanin empowered, so to speak.

And so we come to the story of a girl, who was destined to be part of a family, where her only sibling was very fair. (Actually, fair here is being used as an attitudinal description; it is beside the point that he was also very fair complexioned; that most of India would see it as a "white", is a given).

When she was little, she oozed confidence. Least bothered with eye-crossed visitors who tried to figure out the complexion difference in siblings, she simply thrived and enjoyed being at home, playing, school,friends, grandparents, eating, teasing, being teased, fighting..exploring.... everything.

School was a bit different. For one thing her brother went there. She was an adopted child, and some of the teachers, to the consternation of her folks, actually came up them, in a pssst kind of way, to complain about something , and ended up saying, "after all, her culture is different from her brother's....! Some worldly smart(!) types even asked her parents why they didnt "get" a fairer child !
In this narrow and unenlightened environment it wasn't long before nosey classmates and other girls queried her about her inborn inability to match her brother in complexion, no doubt after hearing some elders talk.

Her melanin empowered skin was building up resistance power in more ways than one. Tormentors were labelled yellow and green by a little girl who refused to give up. She swam a lot. And suffered the least trauma , amidst a bevy of girls, who went into a depression over a 10% change
,in their complexion,for the darker, over the summer in the pool.

Teenage happened. Days of doubts. Obsessions with various types of organic facials made from fruits and grains. Awareness of pseudo utopian images in leading Indian women's magazines , that existed only for advertisers. By and by , all that swimming, good diet and those homemade natural cleansing agents, started showing results.

She didn't become "fair" in the Indian sense, but her skin and hair had a great glow, and she became a confident young woman, comfortable in her own skin.

Such is the obsession with fairness in India, that her parents were cautioned, by highly educated (!) neighbors, about sending her for swimming "lest she turned "black""......and television now had a daily serial where a bunch of sisters, one very fair and one dark, went through life, the fair one sailing through everything and the dark one having to fight....

Family and well meaning folks had been telling her, since she was a child, that darkness was a state of mind, not a complexion. There were plenty of "fair" folks with very dark minds. And vice versa. And as she grew up, she started believing that.

And so she doesn't really worry about her color any more.

She has grown up, in more ways, besides calendar years....

She is learning graphic design and animation now as she completes her college graduation on the side. They are learning some Adobe Software and she often has assignments.

Yesterday I saw her fooling around with Photoshop, and I heard her chortling away.

I went to investigate.

"You know, you can change people's complexion in Photoshop".


And she did some choosing of tools from a menu, and swishing around of the mouse, as her own childhood photo got modified into a "fair version". Everytime she created, a still fairer version, she would crack up, into peals of laughter....

The whole thing was so entertaining to her. She changed complexions till she would have probably given a Punjabi Kudi or Marilyn Monroe a complex.

Then she changed things back.

Looked up at me. Wrinkled her nose.

Nodded approvingly, and said " I think I like it as is , the original is the best....... don't you think so ?"

That's what called, Being Digitally Dark and Lovely.

Being strong and mature enough, to keep yourself digitally unchanged.

I bet Adobe chaps never thought of this psychological use of Photoshop. Maturing by Photoshop.

And Dark and Lovely isn't about Robert Frost, and folks trudging through woods , counting their miles before they sleep.

Its about this Dark and Lovely girl, going from strength to strength....

This entry is a part of the contest at in association with

Monday, October 06, 2008

Sips of fancy........पानी पानी रे .....

When its a question of spherical/circular/cyclic vs flat/linear, I notice that I tend to lean (in a very linear way) towards the former. Time and again life throws up instances which keep on reminding us of something that has happened before. Nothing changes permanently. But things keep changing, only to reappear in a cyclic manner.

Sometimes in a very high-end,pseudo-posh manner. For simple things, like drinking water.....

This introspective outburst has been inspired by a blog post that I read, (which had me absolutely seething in disgust, at the contents):

Claridge’s, London has one of the most extensive water menus. Prices range from US$ 10 to 21 a bottle….. Sommelier Pierre Legrandois of Pierre at Mandarin Oriental blind-tasted more than 60 varieties of water before choosing nine. In Singapore, French Restaurant Jaan, in Swissotel, The Stamford is launching a water menu with 17 varieties.

First, the guy who is trained to drink wine, inexplicably, drinks water. For a fee. He calls himself a Sommelier, and calls the stuff a "water menu". All this supercilious tasting of various "bottled" waters, swishing it around in your mouth and spitting it out (Hmmm), and then passing opinions , which raise the cost of the bottle of water to , say $21. All this as vast amounts of so called hankering, sophisticated followers struggle to hear the verdict.

Airlines that should know better , get taken in by all this and announce that we get it if we pay for first class. Well, never was economy more welcome.

French or not, its still H20. Please.

So what else can we look forward to?

Say its the summer of 2020.

French and German people hoarding up sugarcane wine, after Moet fought with Chandon , people diversified , and started marketing limited edition sugarcane wine under the Ganna Cooperative label. Mrs Sarkozy introduced it to the swish set in Paris as an accompaniment to a thorny snack called Chakli, which is imported. Of course , a blogger by the same name sued them for Intellectual Property Rights and so the price of Chakli has doubled.

Oscar de al Renta introduces this year's hot item, Purti; most people in India identify the material as that used to mop floors. Or Potu as it is called. Trust the French to convert it into Purti's, organic tops , which come with a smell of phenol built in. Little holes here and there for authentic ventilation. Gives you a real clean feeling, as you move around in all those auto emissions.....

And guess what. Safety Pins are IN ! (I can only think of all those times I was singled out in the school assembly line, for having a safety pin holding my uniform belt together. But then we weren't the fashion capital of the world. And even if we were , I am not sure Mrs Dawson would have heard.)

Buttons , zips and hooks are passe. Dow, after taking a beating for hobnobbing with Union carbide, has now started making polymer safety pins in various colors. Some folks who might have been called square 20 years ago, still use metal safety pins in various colors. The Beckham children model for the safety pins, ever since S Man Khan , who was earlier chosen because of his over-ripped jeans, refused to turn up.

Levi's are into promoting their latest Baniya brand. Trousers are now made of flowy material, which kind of gathers around, tapering towards the ankle. Some trousers are kind of wrapped instead of stepped into. And sometimes one trouser side is higher than the other. The inspiration is supposed to be the Dhoti worn by shop keepers . The style is being sold as the "Dotty", ever since Prince Charles wore it for his son's Coronation.

And did you know that they have introduced a new liqueur, which tastes similar to the ginger and lemon concentrate that my mother used to make me drink when I had a nauseous stomach situation ? Its called "A la Limbu" and has become the rage in Paris, ever since Bedekar Fils started exporting it in their little lemon size glass shakers. Galleries Lafayette ran out of stock in 4 hours on the opening day.

Rumor has it that lady chefs from India are being flown over to make the original foodstuff called Bhakri. Ever since the Italians declared cooking a performing art, these ladies have been completely booked for the next 3 years.

Renowned for their percussion abilities as they tap on the bhakri dough on the Pol Pat, (nothing to do with Cambodia), with their unmanicured rough fingers, the bhakri magically, grows radially, and is then delicately put on a gridle , an expert hand smears water lovingly on one surface , much like wiping a babies cheek with a wet hand.

A few turns, and the final fling on to the open fire, the bhakri blooms, is cut, partitioned, and served in what has become known as Cordon Lalu style : with a dollop of butter, tangy greens , slit hot green chillies, pickled garlic, and a piece of onion , mashed by a single blow of the fist......

Ouch. What a thud ! Back to 2008............

All this amazing stuff has parched my throat .

Water ? Positively , no. The tap isn't working.

Chai? I used to love it till Amazon and Starbucks entered the fray.

Maybe I'll just have a nice, milky, ginger and pudina(mint) boiled Rajawadi tea.........

(before some tea taster , slurping tea into the back of the mouth at 125 miles per hour, lands up and upgrades the beverage to vague unattainable levels .........