Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Honoring the Gift.......तिघींची गोष्ट .......

Three women. And some Questions.

Suman , 85 , bereaved, from a recent loss of her only remaining sibling, was visiting. I have known her for the last 50 years. An outstanding doctor, leader in her field, a much respected and loved teacher, I have been witness to some well known , grownup, professional people in her field, years after they have graduated as doctors, wishing her and touching her feet, on the Gurupoornima day (A special full moon day dedicated to honoring one's teachers in life), and she getting a bit embarrassed about it all, though quite happy.

She barely remembers her mother, who passed away early. Her father, a scholar of his time, didn't believe in stepmothers. His widowed sister lived with him, and both of them functioned as parents to the children. The girls did very well academically. Some , like Suman, were brilliant. All except Suman and one sister married. Suman was the eldest, and she remained single, presiding over various crises of the family type, helping out as an elder sister, doctor, aunt, academic, and at one time, as a person with monetary resources, thanks to her practice and reputation in her field. She continued to live in what could be called the precursor to heritage houses, with a great old world feel to it, ecologically sound, and a place of comfort for her father. She looked after her father and aunt , well into their 90's, respecting their old-world habits and customs, and those of us who visited her had much to learn from that. She learned money management, land management, but had a tough job in sibling management.

Probably superior to any candle that burns itself out while lighting the world, she sat and talked on a recent visit. Something that couldn't happen earlier, due to some terminal illnesses of family members, where she faced random,vicious, unforgivable and scientifically inaccurate comments from confused family members , as she continued her practice of the Hippocratic Oath, and brushed her upset mind aside. Sponged off, financially, emotionally, and otherwise, her mind's strong control over her body has now started shaking a bit, and she is beset with a few old age physical problems now. She spent a lot of time, pouring out her mind to me. She and my late mother were great friends, now its me. We connect. She talks about her friends dying. Attitudes of family, earlier and now. Gives me a new view on something which troubles me.

And I ask her, that looking back today, would she have done anything differently in her life ?. To which she remarked, that once it was understood that , (a) you were an individual, but within a family , (b) different people are different in a family and (c) you accepted responsibilities , it became very easy to prioritize, unfashionable and non-self-benefiting as the choice may be. She had the example of the previous generation, and there was something to learn. It was all about facing up and making choices for the common good.

Audabai from a previous post, has not been seen for a while these days. When Suman and I went to her vegetable stall, it was packed and shut. And so I inquired . The answer brought a smile to Suman's face.

From a battered woman (with a drunkard husband), who educated her son and encouraged him to start a vegetable business, then organized his marriage, to a woman whose education she valued and encouraged, in the face of snide comments from ill-wishers, Audabai has now taken a decision to shut down her stall. Business wise it doesn't make her dent as her son continues in the same business, in home delivery mode, has more orders than he can handle, and so her stock will disappear fast. I thought this was a decision of a tired old lady, wishing to sit back and enjoy her old age.

But no.

All the trouble that her daughter-in-law took, attending classes and studying , travelling chock-a-block in buses against various odds, has started yielding results. Her daughter-in-law now has a job in a college.Her husband and Audabai are thrilled. It involves a 90 minute train ride plus assorted connecting bus rides each way, which keeps her away from home from 6 am to 7 pm. Audabai's grandchildren are in primary school.

Audabai, who could teach our government something about priorities, decided to take up the children's education responsibilities. She is now staying home, ensuring that she walks the children to and from school daily, talks to their teachers, ensures they eat hot meals on time, play and do their homework. She keeps an eye , on who their friends are, given the slightly dicey area in which she stays due to economic compulsions. Closure of the stall, probably makes her lose "some" income, but in a life of constantly having to make do with less, Audabai is habituated to making such decisions......

Like Suman said, you were part of a family, you accepted and recognized responsibility, and prioritized. Facing up and making choices for the common good.

And I have just returned from lunching with Anandita. (Her aunt is an old friend).

Anandita is in her early thirties. A woman of the IT generation. Brilliant student. She always had goals. Strived to reach them. Mostly met them.She has a brother and a sister. Both married. She had a semi arranged marriage. She and her husband work. Successful executives. Gives shoulder-to-shoulder a new meaning. Her's is probably the first generation in her family where the girls were given unlimited educational facilities, thanks to the savings made by the earlier generations. Anandita and her husband are now abroad in the US. Doing very well. Even by US standards.

Her folks are very proud and happy. She is proud, but unhappy.

The problem is parents. Mostly his. Unlike upwardly incompatible computer OS's , it is very easy for humans from the third world to be upwardly compatible with the first world ethos. This upward movement involves, blindly reading sociology,politics, and urban lifestyle, relevant to a different society, and sometimes erroneously applying it to your life. Life is treated as a big picnic, where there are things to be used and thrown away, so long as you both sit ecstatically, looking away into the sunset. And all this despite the fact, that even in first world societies (with a presumed emphasis on the nuclear family set up), there are families with an intra-family lifetyle which is very unique, inclusive ,specific to their family circumstances, and very cognizant of parents and the role they play after they get the prefix "grand" or the suffix "in-law"......

Anandita has a problem of what to talk with her in-laws, when they visit. At this point it must be said that today, it is very common to have Indian parents visit their children in the US, and there is a certain smugness in coming back and telling everyone how well they are doing, materially, and careerwise. Not all parents can deal with a culturally different society, and the absence of a custom that allows unannounced neighborhood visits with chats; although some parents visit and join senior centers, and end up making their own friends.... (I dont think this even qualifies as a problem in India. You live together, and talking happens. You do not plan, for heavens sake.)

I am not sure this would have been so, had she and her husband remained in India. Its a problem of "them" and "us"; it used to be "we".

She poured her heart out about independence in her own house. Freedom to behave as she wanted to, in her own house, without the possibility of offending parental sensibilities. Stress factors include changing jobs. Possible return to the motherland. A continued stay abroad increasing anxiety about parental health. Hers. Continued apprehensive thoughts about how to face it if they have to live with the in laws on their return. The distinct possibility of the husband falling in line with a parental request, unpopular with her.
And so there is this stress. Of what could be; or shouldnt be. And then there is the problem of children happening at the right age. Not because the prospective grandparents feel so, but because that's what she wants. The more she thinks , the higher go her stress levels, andd more haywire her hormones. In the meanwhile its back to vacations, new cars, and other consumerist happy feel-good stuff.

I don't know who is smarter. Suman, Audabai, or Anandita.

I don't know who is luckier. Suman, Audabai, or Anandita.

I don't know who is happier. Suman, Audabai, or Anandita.

I know the first looks back , at a life, nostalgically. Bygones have remained bygones and and she indulgently remembers only good things of those gone before her. Her knees hurt. But she doesnt let it bother her. She has taken up learning Sanskrit, and at 85, is doing just fine, thank you. It happens.

The second is thrilled to bits, about the daughter-in-law's new job. She is so proud. She can't run as fast as her grandchildren , but she tries to keep up with them as she daily takes them to school, and goes through a second innings as a mother, so to speak, as she wipes the sweat from her face, and respectfully covers her head with the saree end, on meeting the classteacher..

I am just wondering how to explain things to Anandita. While she has more than the others ever had, including a priviledged youth, she appears to be the most stressed and unhappy.

Maybe we need to give more weightage to doing what feels right, under any given circumstances. Than what is considered right and smart in the eyes of the materialistic and/or modern world of the Joneses, in this day and age.

One of our most brilliants minds, Einstein, had something to say:

"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.

So very true.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Moo Year.....हम्मा , हम्मा, हम्माहम्माहम्मा, रे हम्मा

I don't know if it has anything to do with the recession, the economic downturn, BIG folks feeling the pinch ( and I mean financially BIG), but in all the wild stuff going on around me in the name of infrastructure development, one has suddenly stopped seeing cows.( As they leisurely strolled through the middle of the main road, totally oblivious to honking folks in buses, fancy cars, and yes, helmets and motorcycles..., giving looks, like a politically secure minister, may give his detractors in Parliament.)

I live in an area ,in the suburbs of Mumbai, which was once considered god-forsaken, back-of-beyond, jungle-like etc etc, by those who thrive on fancy 4-wheels and fancier 5-stars. About 600 acres of wooded area, where stands today, the premiere Engineering Institute in India, since the last 50 years. Bordering on a lake, the early residents of the area, besides technical humans, were leopards, cows, wild dogs and monkeys.

While one occasionally sights leopards (they have moved still further back into the park area after the engineers happened), the cows, wild dogs and monkeys, have managed to make their presence felt, in a sort of defiant way. Quite understandable , since they were there first; and there isn't any reason, that any Act of Parliament to start such an Institute, , signed with a flourish by a Prime Minister, should suddenly make them go, particularly since no rehabilitation plans were discussed.

Whats more , no one did any protests on their behalf, and got any prizes.

The academic area has a covered corridor, that runs by all the departments. My earliest memories of going to work, include those, of dodging groups of these cows and bulls, sort of strolling confidently through these corridors. Heads down, pointing horns, a disdainful sneeze, followed by the shake of the head, or a wild swish of the tail, and one of the cows would give a dismissive glance towards the Electrical Engineering department, before traipsing ahead to the next. The security personnel would rush with their sticks to drive them off.

Sometimes this would result in an interesting stampede , as we all moved to the side, and these cows galloped past. Gardens were developed outside departments, and the cows had one more reason to wander. It wasn't uncommon to see a beautiful garden with a flower bed, and a cow sitting dangerously close to it, ruminating, chewing the cud, probably cursing the days the bipeds trespassed on her scene.

Occasionally , a single cow, probably a senior woodizen, would walk in an important manner , all by its self through the centre of the corridor. Whoever decided that cows Moo, never heard our cows. They do more of a loud deep throated "HMMM", similar to that done by a outraged grandparent , after observing what the world is coming to today. Most of our classrooms have open windows and in the monsoon, it was quite common, for some of the cows to take shelter in the department doorway, and loudly moo, as a Data Structures class got over, and the Cream of India's youth, emerged to face and desperately dash across the actual creator of cream, so to speak...

Very often a group of cows would be out on campus for a stroll with their calves, familiarizing them with the terrain , so to speak, and it was amazing to see how they protected them.
I learned it the hard way, when I happened to change gears on my two wheeler as I passed them, and triggered an immediate violent reaction in the elders. Heads down, horns ominously pointing towards me, folks on the road were treated to a bunch of angry cows at a gallop, as I accelerated for dear life, and hoped for an open building gate that I could enter and close. From then on, regardless of which vehicle was used, we avoided changing gears near a group of cows and calves.

Our Institute cows roamed the campus far and wide, but come evening, they gave a new meaning to "coming home in the dust at dusk". We had a surfeit of meadows on campus, and the cows really didn't think of it as special, in the evenings. Our roads were paved, and so dust wasn't really an issue. But several times, in the darkening gloom, one would see a huge herd of cows, about 50 of them, sitting right in the middle of the main road that cut across our campus. Which reminded me of political meetings. They were oblivious to polite requests, honking, lights switching, verbal shouts , but mostly responded to security rushing around with big sticks, which again confirms my suspicion about their meeting resembling a political one.

Maybe , they were political.

Our Institute was initiated through a Russian government collaboration, back in the days of the Comrades. Breznhev actually planted a tree on campus. Occasionally delegations would come to visit, and the corridors which were hitherto strictly out of bounds for any vehicles, would be thrown open for the guests , who drove through them , in, Ambassador cars. Maybe this was to keep them away from an interested bovine population. It wouldn't do, for the education minister of Russia, to be greeted by a cow with her special campus Moo, as he queried someone about how the Russian computer was doing. However, grasslands on the sides of the corridors, occasionally ensured that the Russians got a dedicated view of our campus cows, performing, through, as they say, both ends of their body.

They are cutting a lot of trees now, to facilitate the construction of new buildings and infrastructure. The arterial road widening outside our institute, has also resulted in the complete destruction of a shady belt. Not surprisingly, one has not been seeing the cows , in the numbers, that one saw earlier. The new generation of students are missing out on the most unique aspect of studying here. There was something to be said for a bunch of cows quietly grazing away, watching all the going ons on Convocation Day, as yet another set of students who had , over the years, rushed by them to class, in mismatched chappals, now stood about in kurtas, and uttariyas, , all set to go off to a country, where children still thought that milk came in cartons and bottles and not from cows.....

Maybe we have little value for our cows although we culturally idolize them.. Some good souls, create go-shalas, and set up places where the cows are taken care of well. We treat them as a nuisance on campus that interferes with our "vision" for the place.

Maybe we need to know about Roger Federer.
His Canton/State, presented him with a cow, to celebrate his Wimbledon win. He named her Juliette, and Juliette later had a calf. Federer stood proudly next to Juliette in photographs.

Amidst crores of Rs being declared as prizes by various states to the Nations performing sportsmen, one never hears of anyone being presented with a prize cow or bull.

I yearn to see the day when we see a picture of the Indian cricket team . or say, Tendulkar or Dhoni, standing beside a prize Cow, maybe even doing the victory lap , the cow sprinting ahead of them, as they cajole her in typical cowherd shouts.

And, of course, we wont speculate on a possible name for the cow......

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

In praise of Mumbai's finest......मुंबईचे सर्वोत्तम .....

Every afternoon, she left to attend a computer animation class in the city , about 10 miles away. She would take one of Mumbai's long distance buses, and after several years of tangling with the crowds therein, had now perfected the knack of being one of them, as they all clutched and accelerated along Mumbai's randomly potholes roads.

She would finish her class just before 5 and catch a bus back. Her class was in Andheri, one of Mumbai's busiest areas, in one of the western suburbs, and on one of its busiest streets, now trying to manage more crowds than it was meant to see. Given the uncertain delays that are now a part of Mumbai life, she always called her mother once she was at the bus stop.

She waited, and she waited. No sign of the bus. Maybe one had just gone. Besides there was a biggish crowd , given the peak evening hours just setting in. She had to pickup a package , and she thought she should avoid the usual rush-rush-squeeze-and-slide-in technique of getting a foothold in the bus. She thought she ought to walk a bit further down near the big bridge, where she would get access to 2 more buses going to her home area. So a better chance of getting a place to sit in the bus, unlike most days when she travelled standing all the way....

And so she started walking. The pavements were taken over by various hawkers, selling everything from purses, to clothes to latest bestsellers at throwaway prices. She had to buy a cake and a gift, and having done that, she stepped on to the road with her rucksack and packages, , and wove through the people waiting for various buses at the various bus stops that lined the road.

She quickened her pace. This was her everyday path, and once she got into a bus she would call her folks at home.

The next thing she knew was that something hit her from the back, and she was flat out on the road. Her eyes were shut, and it took an instant for her to realize that she was hit by a speeding motorcycle. The same motorcycles, that specialize in taking over traffic from the left, and make life very difficult for ordinary folks alighting from and climbing into, buses, as they drive uncontrollably in the thin road strip between the waiting people and the bus. Road construction in Mumbai has given birth to motorcycle desperados.

People gathered. Mostly all men. Some who were waiting for a bus. Some who were selling something by the roadside. Some, students like her, on their way home. And then she felt something warm and red spreading across her face. There was a dull pain in the head. She looked around her for her package. It lay a few feet from her, still inside the plastic bag, .

"Take her to Cooper Hospital, take her to Cooper" , someone said; "there is a deep gash"....

"Oye" , "Where did the motorcycle go ? " Shameless fellow. How many times do we shout at them ? Chase him...."

"And the motorcycle got away ? The swine...." someone else thundered...

They stopped a rickshaw. A gentleman got in with her and they rushed her to Cooper Hospital, the nearest Municipal hospital. Along with the packages. She didn't know what was happening. The headache had become intense. her eyes were paining, her face was bleeding, and there was blood spattered all over her clothes. The good Samaritan gentleman offered her a big cloth piece to hold against her wound, and it immediately soaked up the gushing blood. Clotting had set in by the time she was wheeled into emergency.

The staff instantly attended to her, put stitches on her forehead where the wound was bad, dressed her other wounds on her arm and hands. As a child she faced injections better than anyone else, and she did the same now. But iodine and benzoine was something else. Her mother, who normally blew air on her wounds whenever iodine burned, was not there beside her. But the pain and the hurt was too much, and the nurses were alarmed at her uninhibited cries of pain..... Local anaesthetic for stitching and a standard tetanus shot was given. Very interestingly, , all this was done by a very capable male nurse, as the female nurses thought she was making an unnecccessary amount of noise, and stood away.....(So she told her mother later, but it is possible that people were assigned work according to their expertise....)

All this time, the rickshaw driver and the good Samaritan waited outside. Guarding the package she had with her, but was asked to leave outside. Her face was carefully cleaned and the signs of bleeding were now less intimidating. She emerged from the ER her clothes speckled with blood, as if she was emerging from a fight. They asked her where she lived, and the gentleman decided to see her home, given the state she was in.

In the meanwhile her mother was worried as she didn't reach home in time, and neither was her cell phone reachable. Worried thoughts clouding the mind. Something must have happened. Put on the television and radio, to see if they were reporting anything. This was Mumbai. Anything could happen.... Worry advanced into desperation. Phone calls were made to her friends if they had heard from her.....a sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach. Holding on to a slim glimmer of hope that said her cell phone battery could simply be discharged, and she would be shortly home.....

An hour later she called her mother.

The rickshaw driver and the gentleman had accompanied her towards her home, in the rickshaw. There was a huge traffic jam a kilometer away from her house. A routine fixture. The diesel fumes and heat made her nauseous, and as she did every day, she decided to get off and walk the last kilometer home. Both the worried gentleman thought she would feel giddy with the loss of blood and the walking effort ,in such polluted air.

But she was adamant.

So she got off, and walked, and suddenly realized her cell phone was in her pocket. She tried to switch it on, and it worked. She called home. Her father rushed to pick her up, and her mother heaved a huge sigh of thankfulness and relief. A sudden loss of energy, following a clearing of a huge tension. This season, the variety amongst "things that could happen to anyone" was simply huge, given the current scenario.

And so she came home, carrying a package with a chocolate cake inside, which had survived the entire trauma on the road and in the municipal hospital. It was to be a secret and her mother was not to know she was bringing it for her mother's birthday the next day. So her mother pretended to be busy talking to the doctor on the phone , while the cake, with the totally homogenized icing and shaken up innards, was hidden in the refrigerator. ......

A wet-wipe of hair crusted with dried blood, a warm sponging, a hot dinner, and a cool glass of buttermilk later, she lay on the couch talking to her folks about the whole thing. How they helped.How she trusted. And how she didn't even know their names.....

No one knows who the two good Samaritans were. She told her mother that the trip to the hospital etc was not charged by the driver. The other gentleman thought he shouldn't let the girl go alone. They didn't even live anywhere near her area, but simply thought they should be doing what they did. The rickshaw driver , probably lost a huge amount of his daily earnings, and the gentleman was probably late reaching home himself, where his own family probably worried.

But in a city which has seen the worst of times, this was a sign that ordinary folks had extraordinary spirit.

Ordinary folks who crowd the roads, rushing home, walking, or by public transport, but they simply dash in to help when it is required. They have done it in every single bomb blast and natural calamity in Mumbai, and they continue to do it again and again. Displaying the Bhgawad Gita philosphy , that says, do your work as the best form of worship, and dont worry about the fruits of your work. And then they fade out of the picture, having immeasurably enriched our belief in the basic goodness of people.

A Public Municipal Hospital, often constantly criticised in the papers every alternate day, shines big and bright this festive season, having done its bit , in an outstanding and timely manner, for a young girl, alone, hurt, bleeding, and accompanied by two golden hearted folks.

The girl is my daughter. She is just back from our Institute hospital, where her doctor attended to her in detail, checked the wounds, cleaned and dressed them , and praised the nifty work done by the Cooper Hospital personnel. I am still trying to find out how to trace who the two good Samaritans were. My daughter doesn't remember too much. Just a huge surge of adrenalin that brought her home from the jammed up traffic, leaving two dumbstruck people in a rickshaw that couldn't move ahead........

This festive season, after a traumatic set of events, its time to believe once again in the goodness of the common man, and whatever inspires the man to behave so.....

And I am still wondering how to go about tracing these two wonderful people......

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The importance of Darts......नेम बराच सुधारलेला दिसतोय .......

I have always thought of Darts as a game for those who have proved totally unsuccessful at shooting with bows-and-arrows.

For one thing, arrows themselves are quite fine as a throwable item, but having to do that via a bow, kind of complicates matters. You have to conduct yourself in big fields, with targets placed far away from you. Everyone holds their breath and respectfully stands around in silence, as you pull and let go. Cheers or tears. Then we have all the mythologicals on Indian Television, where single arrows from a single bow of a single person (mostly blue in color), often gets rid of entire armies belonging to the opposition, amidst huge orange flareups.

There is something final about bows-and-arrows shooting. Its like screaming and shouting at someone, and decisively bashing them up. Bulls eye. Serious stuff. Like books.

Darts, by contrast, is a more sedate activity, mostly played with arrows (darts) the size of your palm, and a dartboard the size of a base of one of the new buckets I recently purchased. This is played mostly indoors, and people are eating and drinking around you, and some of the players even take sips of some golden stuff in between. People comment. Tease. Applaud. All this pleasant and informal activity has so far kept it successfully away from being co-opted as an Olympic Sport. where the requirement barrs waiters from walking around the place with beer and sandwiches.

And so darts is like a bunch of friends sitting , teasing, taking pot shots , sometimes hitting, sometimes losing, and all the time you are enriching yourself with the experience amongst friends who enjoy similar things as you do. Light enjoyable stuff, like blogs.....

So it is with a great sense of happy surprise that I came upon this award, the "premio dardos" or "dart prize " award, that a fellow blogger Devaki, has bequeathed on me. (This seems to be the season for Spanish Awards....)

This is supposed to be an award "acknowledging the values that every blogger shows in his/her effort to transmit cultural, ethical, literary and personal values every day".

Muchas Gracias !

(I honestly wasn't aware I was transmitting all these things as the recycled electrons sped across the blogosphere.)

This is gratefully accepted, and one would like to pass this Premio Dardos award, on to Rain, Windy Skies, Kavi's Musings, Past Continuous .........

Er.... sandwiches, anybody ?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Lunch, anyone ? सावकाश जेवा ....ब्लॉगत ब्लॉगत जेवा .....

Once upon a time, not too long ago, there were 6 wordoholics. They wrote blogs. Their own, and then they commented on others' blogs.

They decided to meet.

Different types, ranging from a young working mother immersed in the mechanics and psychology of schooling 2 little girls, to a young man who balanced his job with a keen observation of what we call everyday life, (and a penchant for radio interviews :-) ; a gentleman who actually blogged as two, and excelled at expression in his native language, commuted 200 kms every weekend, and stayed back just to meet these unknown friends; a corporate type who wrote non-corporate blogs and limericks, and commentaries on happenings around him; and a housewife, retired from a job, waxing nostalagic on her blog, with fingers itching to dance across the keyboard, something that was a big part of her job earlier....

They had another wordoholic friend, a lady , who happened to have flown in from 12,000 miles away, and everyone decided to meet .

See the road that travels up the center of the photo with the green on one side, and buildings on the other ? Thats S. V. Rd,
an arterial road in the western suburbs. Well, they decided to meet in Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, which would be somewhere at the top end of the road.

They decided to meet in the courtyard of a place called the Shoppers Stop shown here. Some came in early, browsed around the bookshops, and then waited. The ladies came by , in rickshas, each from far flung parts of Mumbai.

Of course , the rickshas stopped here and there, they looked around , since except for one person, who dares to appear as himself on his blog, no one had seen anyone else.

Maybe everyone had an invisble halo that screamed "blogspot", maybe everyone had a look of discovery on their face, maybe everyone was actually smarter than they thought, but THEY MET! (Except for one. A lady, who was braving the worst kind of traffic to make it in time, to see people she had never met. She was directed to come to the restaurant directly.... )

Unfortunately, the lady who flew down from the US of A, couldn't make it, and this effort is an attempt at making her feel as if she was there....

Just opposite Shoppers Stop, there is a nice place called RadhaKrishna. Besides being named after our deities, we had heard nice things about it, and we decided to go there for lunch.

This is how it might have looked without any bloggers inside. Just as we were getting seated, the final blogger in the ricksha, arrived and the youngest fellow in the group, in correct Indian style, went outside to meet her and escort her in.

See the table at the right bottom corner ? That's where we had lunch. The place was full.

Did everyone look like we thought they would ? Did we have a mental image about how a person would look after being a regular reader of his/her blog ?

It is strange, but for people like us from 3 different states, and at least 3 different languages, there wasn't any huge surprise element .

Everyone just sat down, and basically, got along like a house on fire ..:-)

Lots of chats, interspersed between delicious rotis and vegetable gravies, with a cooling yogurt raita, and a wonderful mixed vegetable pulao, and us oldies indulgently allowed the youngsters to tuck in the fruit salad with ice cream, as we discussed, vegan diets, kilograms lost and gained, and miles walked.

Some gifts were exchanged. Maybe ten years hence when blogspot gets upgraded to something you cant remember, and blogs have a 25 digit number which you say to the screen instead of typing it in , or something, we can all look back at the wonderful coffee mugs given to us by Kavi, with all the participating folks' blogsites printed on there.....

All good things at a Saturday lunch come to an end, and so did this meeting.

Here's a view of the road we had to cross, showing probably 1/100th of the traffic that was actually around. But this is to give you an idea of the variety. And no, we didn't jump over the road divider.

I have with me the coffee mug meant for the blogger at My2 cents. I hope we see her before she returns to the US.

And now, if you excuse me, I must go have a nice cup of ginger tea, in the wonderful bloggy mug......

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Footwear weaponry in the modern world

The time has come," as someone said, "to talk of many things: Of shoes and trips - and press meets. - of presidents and kings....

Here is a Press meet, of presumably the most powerful person in the world. There is a Secret Service, a not so secret checking of everyone going in, individual passes, a respectful audience, disciplined questions, and the man on the stage , on his last tour, is facing the world. A guy in the audience, simply pulls out his shoe and flings it on the dais, with anger in his eyes. The gentleman on the stage, powerfully ducks (a la Sachin Tendulkar facing a bad bouncer), and then announces the shoe size, while his bouncers wrestle down the shoe thrower.

It has occurred to me that this wouldn't have happened if social customs decreed that you removed your shoes before you went inside some one's place.

Growing up in India, one always had a shoe rack at the house entrance , where one removed and kept one's shoes and sandals, on entering. Given the hot temperatures around, most people wore sandals , or, what are called "chappals ", sort of slip-on footwear without any binding, per se, and lots of places for air to flow around. School uniforms demanded what were called "naughty boy shoes", and "keds", and these were duly worn at school, and never looked at again.

When ever we visited someones house, we removed our footwear outside, or at their entrance, just inside, and there were glances of disapproval at those uninhibited souls who traipsed in, in their footwear, and dragged it across the cool floor tiles. In the city of Pune, where I grew up as a child, winter was very cold, the tiled floors were extremely cold, but I do not remember anyone one in our house, including elderly folks wearing any slippers and stuff.

You always had a room in the house where your little corner-of-the-Gods was, and it was completely taboo to wear any footwear there.
You came in from playing in the cold outside, washed your feet clean with water, and that was where you recited your prayer stuff every evening before meals. ( Its not clear why we did so, but along with prayers to God, we also recited various mathematical tables then, with the result, that even today, tables of , say 27, do not cause any palpitations, and one can give answers possibly , instantly.)

When you went out, you were comical vision, with the various scarves, mufflers, monkey caps, sweaters, coats and what have you. We had never heard of thermals; and when we did hear of them in school, we thought they were natural springs that gushed forth as hot geysers in some places. A 5:30 am school PT session, meant cycling there, teeth chattering, but it never occurred to anyone that gloves could be used.

Of course , there were families, who wore "chappals" in the house; these were invariably families, where the man had some connection to the armed forces, a twirling moustache, and a rigid bearing, while his better half, almost always wore lipstick, sleeveless blouses, and sometimes , short hair, which was suitably frowned upon by the hoi-polloi like us. They invariably cooked something non vegetarian on Sundays, and any mention of that was bad enough for my grandmother to put her fingers in her ears.

By and by, things changed. Global warming was in its nascent stage, Kyoto was still a small town in Japan, and Al Gore was probably in kindergaarten. Prosperity sort of trickled in here and there, and brought with it the diseases associated with it. Folks started getting diabetes. And house slippers made an appearance in an effort to take care of ones feet, so important in a diabetic person.

Footwear graduated from being a need , to a fashion accessory, sometime, when I was in my twenties. Of course, there were always people up there who had all the time in the world to match their sarees with the color of their chappals, but one didn't move in those circles, so to speak.

Sometime in the 80's things progressed very fast where footwear was concerned. Shoes started belonging to Brands, and became a status symbol. Magazines for fashion appeared and young girls braved pot holed roads, to run and catch buses, wearing high heels. Visits to temples required, that you remove your footwear outside, and when you came out, sometimes your own pair would have disappeared and a cheapy brand would be there in its place. The North Indian wedding custom, of the bride's side hiding the groom's shoes (he didn't wear them during the religious ceremonies), and returning them for a hefty monetary price, was avidly adopted by folks elsewhere.

But the basic attitude of footwear as something "beneath" you, so to speak, remained. Throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia, there cannot be anything more demeaning to a person, than to have someone else's footwear, hit him; whether thrown , or by direct personal contact, specifically, on the face.

My friend Audabai, (she would probably think the Audi was named after her, and she didn't know that cars could be called Audi), is in her 70's and runs a vegetable stall outside our Institute Gates. She did household help jobs while bringing up and educating a son, despite a drunkard husband. The son finished his college majoring in Economics, and decided to start his on vegetable business, providing fresh produce to the student dorms on a regular basis.

Audabai stopped working houses, and put up her own vegetable stall. Right opposite the police outpost on the main road. By and by, the son got married, and Audabai ensured that the daughter-in-law would be educated enough to do the business accounts. She would stand at her stall, sometimes in the burning mid-day sun, fanning herself with the end of her sari, rearranging vegetables, which customers had disturbed in their search for their stuff. She would occasionally accompany her daughter-in-law when the latter had to visit some unknown area as part of her course work. And she always took the bus.

Buses in Mumbai are always crowded. And regular travelers know, how to make their way from the entrance to the exit door, squeezing into small places, pushing a bit with elbows, umbrellas,purses, gauging the person ahead of them. Most men , are very considerate, and treat you with respect, even in that crush.

It so happened that while Audabai was returning with her daughter and moving to the front door to get off, some guy standing behind, who obviously got his kicks from touching folks, troubled her daughter-in-law. As such, it was difficult, even to turn around in that tight crowd, and the daughter in law gave a shove of her elbow, to whoever was behind her, and said something loudly. The people around her noticed , so did Audabai. They involuntarily moved forward with the surging crowd in the aisle, and the man continued troubling the daughter-in-law, who was now tearful and raging angry.

The bus stopped.

They reached the steps. A quietly enraged Audabai , tucked in the end of her saree at the waist, looked at the culprit, and urged her traumatised daughter-in-law to get off. Then she came face to face with the sick minded fellow, and advanced towards him.

She had one foot on the steps of the bus, and she removed her chappals. Caught hold off the surprised chap by his collar, picked up her chappals, and smacked him across the face with them.

"That will teach you. Looks like you don't have any mother and sisters. If you did, you wouldn't go around molesting women like this. " And she picked up the chappal once again to whack him on his face. Everyone in the bus started muttering how right Audabai was , and how the fellow deserved what he got. The conductor and driver of the bus, got up, and pushed the guy off the bus, with dire warnings.

Audabai was having none of it. She dragged him to the police outpost near her stall. Her fellow vendors, the coconut sellers, and fruit sellers,the flowers shop lady, gathered around, and made life miserable for the chap.

"Try troubling girls again, and you will get more". And she made, as if to take off her footwear.

She wiped her face, breathing heavily, adjusted the end of her saree across her shoulder, poured some water from a bottle across her face to let the angry sweat trickle off, and spat disdainfully in the fellows direction.

This happens in Mumbai, I think, somewhere, everyday. Sometimes it is fearless folks like Audabai, sometimes younger gutsy women , who have more dangerous footwear with heels, and sometimes, an enraged bus population.

It just makes me wonder, what would have been the case if the Iraqi person who flung the shoe was female......

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Twelve days BEFORE Christmas.....

George Walker Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, since 2001, and soon to be ex, once said :

"To those of you who received honours, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say you, too, can be president of the United States..."

I do not know what grade I have, and am happily disqualified from ever following in the eminent presidential footsteps of even more eminent people by virtue of my distinguished birth in the city of Mumbai, India.

And .....one is grateful for awards bestowed upon one, by various friends, and so:

Sylvia K. , Thank you for this Superior Scribbler Award. the Spirit of Christmas pervades the blogosphere, and I wish all my blogging friends a wonderful Christmas and New year season. Greetings from a warm and sunny Mumbai :-)

Hitch-writer has sent me, what I think is an award in Spanish. I think what it says is something like "believing in proximity of folks in space ,time, and blogging....." . (I may be completely wrong, but then Spanish was never my strong point).

Thank you Hitch-writer, the award is greatly appreciated.

I am supposed to find 5 people to bestow the first award and 8 more to bestow the second. The choice is overwhelming. Unlike the Nobels, Magasayays, and Pulitzers, this is very difficult to decide. :-)

And so I dedicate these awards, to all my wonderful blogging friends, in India and across the world, who write such entertaining and thoughtful blogs, and yet, in difficult and trying times, manage to overwhelm the band width with their messages of succour and comfort....

Seasons Greetings to all....

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How many of these 100......शंभर मधल्या किती ?

Some interesting fun stuff.....

Sylvia From Over the Hill, in her recent post, mentions a list of 100 things. She found this on another blog, and when I started to check which of the things I could tick mark, I found a lot of stuff , kind of irrelevant to the subcontinent. So I have modified certain entries below to reflect the geographical relevance.

The activities in color are those that I have done. One waits on the others, though I am not exactly desperate to "
# 87 ' kill and prepare an animal for eating' " (I'm vegetarian), or " # 67. "Bounced a check" . I desist from "
#10. singing a solo", out of consideration for the people around me.

Those NOT of a secretive bent of mind , might want to post their stuff ...... Copy the 100 entries, and color the ones you have done........(mine in purple-pink)

Here goes !

1. Started my own blog

2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than I can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Touched a cobra/snake
10. Sung a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched lightning at sea
14. Taught myself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Kutub Minaar
18. Grown my own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitchhiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a Divali fort- "killa"
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone swimming in the Ganga
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a houseboat in the Dal lake in Kashmir
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a sixer (cricket)
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of my ancestors
35. Visited an Adivasi community ("pada")
36. Taught myself a new language
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Taj Mahal (monument, not hotel) in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen the Himalayas
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen the eruption of a volcano
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited the US
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had my portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Been to VaishhnoDevi
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Visited a Masjid
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served as a volunteer at a public meeting
61. Helped someone not related to you , with studies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone parasailing
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten karela happily
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood at the Gateway of India recently, after 26/11
74. Toured Kashmir
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards at the Wagah border between Ind-Pak
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Parliament in New Delhi
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in KanyaKumari
84. Had my picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bhagwad Geeta
86. Visited the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi (President of India residence)
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
96. Swam in the Indian Ocean
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Ridden an elephant

Monday, December 08, 2008

Pickled and Preserved.........जुनं मुरलेलं लोणचं ........

   I recently ran into her at a wedding. Conducted in what is today considered old style, the wedding lunch was in what can be described as a pangat style. In a fairly big room, a glance across the various lines of lunching folks, , shows you a lot of people you haven't seen for a while, or sometimes , even some people who you don't want to see for a while.

Manorama looked small amidst some younger folks, resplendent in her antique silk sari, and her old heirloom jewellery, and she smiled and waved back at me , with the hand she wasn't using for eating the meal. She would now be around 80, or maybe even more. A lady with , what may today be called a "petite" build, she was often a visitor to my parents , when I was a child. As I grew up, one thing was very clear. The only thing petite about her, was her build.

Her parents, in-laws and my grandparents belonged to the same coastal village.An idyllic lush green and blue coast which remains the same even today. My grandparents migrated to Mumbai in the early 1900's. Somewhere around the time of our independence in 1947, she and her husband left their ancestral house due to economic compulsions and land tilling problems, and came to the city.

The question of a livelihood arose. In a village society which allowed idleness as a valid activity, because your father was a do-er of good, her husband wasn't really trained for anything. And so she decided to start something of her own. A home made pickle business.

My grandfather helped her with the seed money, and she started her mango pickle business in a two room set up, which was actually her house then. She at first sourced the juicy raw mangoes from their own small land holding left behind. Transport wasn't very easy, telephones sometimes didn't exist, and she would often go and wait at the transport terminal to check if her stuff had come. For a girl from a hugely protected rural traditional set up, even dealing with the burly drivers and enquiring about things required guts. Her husband didn't keep too well, although he did accompany her occasionally when he could. She would come see my parents when we were children, and had a secret admirer in my mother, in whom she would often confide. She learnt how to visit places with her pickle samples, and seek orders. My mother helped her with some contacts, which were mostly places which had cafeterias which served food and slowly the orders grew.

Her husband did all the accounting for the business, decided on expenditures, and salaries of helpers, 2-3 of whom she was able to hire. Things were progressing, even on the personal front and there were two young children now. But by and large , she was the one who slogged at everything, the pickle, the housework, attending to house guests in the tiny apartment, and she ensured that the children never missed out on any of the traditional observances throughout the year, which she enjoyed as a child in her village.

At one point her husband fell sick, was detected with tuberculosis at an advanced stage. The sky fell on her. Her children were still young, the pickle business was picking up, and now this. For a while she fumbled. Then got her act together. Her husband spent his last months being cared for in a wonderful fashion, and one day, it was just Manorama and her two very young children, who faced a daunting future.

The family who had hitherto commented on her "forward" ness, suddenly got interested, and the husband's younger brother came down to help. He took over the marketing and customer liaison stuff, and left her to concentrate on the production. She was now a confident woman, who could think about the future of the business, and they took a loan to get bigger premises, and capacity. Her pickles were gaining a wonderful reputation, and she branched out into several more pickles and chutneys. Her children went to good schools.

The same relatives who were amazed at her industriousness, now started insinuating things. She was a widow, wasn't she ? And the brother-in-law stayed with them ? Rumor had it that the children thought he was the father ?

She often poured her heart out to my mother, and consulted her. They discussed this, and the brave lady took a very bold step. She shut up everyone, by simply marrying her brother-n-law. This was a complete sensation at that time, and I remember she and her husband coming by, to pay respects to my old grandmother after marriage.

There weren't any stars in her eyes, but there was certainly peace in her heart. The stars would shine later.

Manorama prospered like never before. She bought land, built her own house, with an area earmarked for her pickle factory alongside. She now had some mechanized help, and trained a few people to use the stuff. A delivery van routinely rushed around delivering orders of pickles to industry canteens far and wide. She named her house something that meant "blessings". She was happy, and wanted the world to know that.

Her son got married. She had visions of retiring and handing over the business to her son.

When the second piece of bad luck happened. Her husband died. She was a widow for the second time.

As happens in many families with very capable women, the son had never seen hardship, never worried about a future, and egged on by a wife , who only saw the fruits of prosperity, he declined to have anything to do with pickles. The house was now in a prime city area, and he sold the land and the house to a developer who would build high rises, and give them 2 apartments in return. Manorama had no grandchildren yet, or the son would have thought of the future differently.

The bulldozers came. Manorama wasn't around to see the temple she had built, crushed to rubble. She went back to her native village on the coast, and upgraded her husband's ancestral house. Nothing fancy, but something that gives her old tired body a feeling of simple comfort; a kitchen garden, a few mango trees, and an old car that she uses when she needs to travel close by, driven by the gardener's son , who she is putting through college.

There are fruits and fruits.

There are no more fruits on the family tree. Manorama occasionally frets, but has great faith in God. Her son and daughter-in-law have come up in the world, but have no one to enjoy it in the future. At one time adoption was considered, and Manorama was the foremost supporter. But the daughter-in-law had a problem with someone elses' blood, so to speak, despite the glaring fact that she herself was not a blood relation anyway......

To Manorama, this is just one more problem she faces in life.

She had come to see us when my mother passed away.

" One way to handle a problem is to also know when it's not your problem...." she said. "And so I have left the whole thing and returned to my roots. "

She looks even shorter now than she was, but is still ramrod straight. The hair has silvered in glistening way, and the walk has slowed. But the light in her eyes in still there.

"I have my garden, my fruits, and make my fresh pickles and I share them with the neighbors . I have wonderful memories of an amazing life that I had.

Like the mangoes, I pickle and preserve these memories, and they do get better with age!"

(And rummaging inside her embroidered bag, she fished out and gave me a small bottle of fresh homemade chilly pickle, from her own garden........)