Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In praise of the small and simple.....

She appeared at the door last week. An old stooped lady, wearing glasses with fairly thick lenses. Wearing a traditional nine yard sari, the sort you carefully wash, fold and then store under the mattress in such a way, that it gets a natural ironing, thanks to everyone sitting and or lying down on the one big bed in the house , holding several mattresses. In her house, the place isn't big enough for large amounts of furniture. And the mattresses are pulled down at night for everyone else, while the oldest elder gets the bed.

She was accompanied by a grandson. That's who I thought he was. At first I didn't recognize her. She looked up at me, and smiled. Toothlessly. Through her cataracted eyes. Shining. And then it hit home.

Bhagabai. Who was so much a part of my life when i went to my parents for my first delivery.

It is very traditional, for a girl expecting her first child, to go to her parent's house sometime before her due date. Today, with so many working women, and migration to the metros from small towns, understanding parents make the reverse trip to be there for their daughter and help. Sometimes, understanding parents-in-law chip in with their own help.

But going to one's parents house gives you the sort of freedom, you don't get anywhere else. You can sleep late, cups of tea magically appear when you vaguely wish about them, all kinds of culinary stuff is made for you, and you can absolutely dig in without appearing to be a greedy fool. "I don't feel like doing this", a phrase you dare not utter in front of your in-laws, is quite acceptable here. Although it is considered bad manners to sit with your feet up even in front of your parents (forget in-laws), going to your parents at this point is like mentally putting your feet up , if you know what I mean .... When you go out, you run into some of your school friends' parents and siblings, the local cycle shop fellow who repaired your punctures in college, asks after you and your husband, and the vegetable lady, sends her granddaughter with you, to carry the veggies when you return from shopping .

Post delivery, a very interesting person arrives on the scene. That was Bhagabai.

About 30 years ago, it was fairly routine to employ ladies like Bhagabai, for what was called Post-natal massage, and bathing and massaging the baby. I came home from hospital, and settled in. Bhagabai appeared a few days later. Ladies like her, are experts in the bathing and massaging of babies, in the traditional way. Alongside, they also massage the desperately tired muscles and ligaments of the mother, and there is a technique to it.

They use ordinary oil, and you feel the goodness oozing out of the rough, hardened, fingers, as your muscles get a indulgent talking to. An unusual aspect of the massage is a small utensil made out of a certain alloy , for which I do not know the English name. This utensil, and the oil , is rubbed on the soles of your feet, to remove the "heat". Whatever the science behind this, it used to feel good, and you felt very light after the sole rubbing. You were then accompanied into the bath, where water, as hot as you could tolerate, was poured on you by the big tumblerfuls, and garbanzo flour paste was used to remove any oil that had not managed to seep in by then, into your somnolent body. It felt wonderful. It did things not only to your body, but also to your mind. And some hot-off-he-griddle freshly made tortillas for breakfast with some delicious veggies completed the heavenly routine.

Bhagabai would then sit on the floor, with her feet out in front. Tuck in her saree above her knees, spread a soft white freshly washed cotton towel across her knees, and place the baby on her knees. A dab of oil on her palm, a rubbing together of the palms, and she would proceed to massage, the fairly new knees and ankles and things. Arms, shoulders and back were next. Sometimes the baby was laid on its stomach , so that the shoulders got a nice rub. Indian babies tend to have a nice mop of dark hair, and that was oiled too, with a special type of massage at the point where the fontanel was. You needed to go a bit easy there, as things were still joining up there at that point. The baby was bathed with warm water, to which sprigs of Neem were added. No soap was used, but it was all about using garbanzo flour paste. It had no chemicals, it didn't matter if you managed to eat some, and the face shone after you washed , to such an extent, Proctor and Gamble would have simply quietly vanished if they were watching....

Swaddled in fresh cotton clothes, and a cotton wrap , special wraps being done for the belly button area of the baby which was still healing from the loss of the umbilicus, the baby would lie restfully next to the mother, while Bhagabai would fan a largish plate containing some charcoal fire. She would then throw a mixture of few seeds like fennel, cumin, ajwain (carom seeds), etc, on the fire, and a wonderful smoke and aroma would pervade the room. This was designed to disinfect the atmosphere in the room, as well as give protection from allergies to the mother and child.

At the end of it all, she would sit back, have a cup of tea, chat with my mother for a while, and push off for her next massage assignment. If she felt the child was developing a cold or something, she would alter the mixture of the final seeds that were smoked, and the baby would be fine.

Bhagabai came to us for a month for me, and another month more for my son. She was a big part of the day we had the naming ceremony, and got special sarees from my in-laws and parents on that day. By and by I returned to my own home in Mumbai, and lost touch with her. But she would come once in a while to see my mother, ask after us. At some point of time, she kind of retired from all this and went back to her native place, to her ancestral house, where she lived then with her two sons and their wives and children.

She had been to Pune , and someone told her about my parents being no more. She asked about us, and my cousin told her where I lived. Her grandson was accompanying her to Mumbai as they had come to see someone who was seriously ill , and in hospital, and belonged to Bhagabai's generation.

On an impulse, she found out how to get to my place and came. To offer condolences.

"You know , those days are gone. These young mothers today can't sit still. They start going out to work and shopping, and stuff, and eat outside stuff. They worry about their figures. They avoid eating the old style prescribed stuff , satwik food, and then complain about aches and pains and inability to breastfeed the child....", . She shook her head, adjusted the end of her saree over her head, and looked up at me, as her grandson sort of rolled his eyes and looked up, but indulgently.

I remembered a friend's daughter who had just delivered and I asked if she was interested. She was nearby. Bhagabai could stay with me, and go there. It would be a nice change for Bhagabai, for me, and the new mother.

She smiled.

"You know, the heart is willing, the hands are willing, but I need to go back in a few days. " She motioned to her son to carry the empty teacups and plates into the kitchen and leave them there.

Her reason completely stumped me.

"Elections are there. My name is registered at the village. And I have to be there to vote. I have not missed a single election so far. It is important that we vote for the correct chap. today money power is misused. ....."

Yes, we are having our national elections in April.

This has been a tumultuous time.

Tumultuous in the highs and lows of economy, morals, money,violence,politics and yes, sport; as the 26/11 carnage in Mumbai festers in every one's mind, and makes you look over your shoulder, more than normal. For the ordinary person on the street, worry is a real and valid activity, till you reach your destination. Every time your child is late getting home, your hand reaches for the TV remote.

In the midst of this, India decided to keep its date with democracy. We have general elections, every 5 years. And now is the time.

Come April, and in a country , with an estimated population of 1.15 billion, representing 17% of the world population, 714,000,000 voters will use 1,368,430 electronic voting machines, to indicate their choice. Some will fly in, pose, smile, and vote; some will drive; some will step out of a decelerating public transport to do their civic duty; and in the back of beyond, rural areas, some elder son with a strong back, will carry his old mother piggyback over hill and dale, so she can cast her vote. She may be illiterate, may not know the names of first citizens, but she has a fine work ethic, a pride in the country, and can discuss and decide which man or woman, is worth voting for.

29 different languages are spoken by at least 1 million people each, where several hundred languages are designated as mother-tongues.Being the most culturally, linguistically and genetically diverse geographical entity after the African continent
, this country is home to folks from 9 major religions, Hindu (80.5)% (13.4%), , Muslims Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%), Jains (0.4%), Jews, Zoroastrians, Bahá'ís and others. Tribals constitute 8.1% of the population.

Folks will make their way to 828,804 polling booths, and do their bit to preserve democracy.

Something we seem to be fairly good at, given that we have more reasons to divide us than unite us.

The Home Minister cannot emphasize enough the security aspect of these elections, and the country's law and order forces are totally committed to this.

In the midst of this , the Indian Premier League, the most commercialized money making cricket extravaganza , if there was one, schedules its matches right in the middle of the election period. This, despite the fact that a schoolchild knows that elections must happen before May.

As if that wasn't enough, Mr Lalit Modi, the gung-ho IPL commissioner argues and tangles with the government demanding security for the games. The latest terrorist attack on the Sri Lanka Cricket team in Pakistan has upped the threat perception. Big names in cricket , from UK, Australia, NZ, and SA, who have signed up, are expressing doubts about their own availability , worried about the security aspect.

Everyone is aware, but the amount of security personnel are barely enough for countrywide elections. The interests of the country are paramount. Cricket can always be played later. And IPL isn't even cricket, like test cricket. . It's like McDonald's trying to be the Taj Mahal Hotel.

The news channels show nothing else for 3-4 days, not having the IPL matches is declared a shame on the Nation, and the IPL pffice bearers, all politicians , who knew when the elections were scheduled, alternately huddle together, and fly cross country in a frenzy of discussions.

Yes, the IPL matches WILL be held. But not in India. The head honcho, Mr Modi flies to SA and the change in venue to SA is announced.

To me. the IPL-organizers is a standing example of what should not be. Wheelers and dealers. To them, its all about maximizing revenue, and reducing losses. Commercials and media ads, and sponsorships, and stadia advertising. They have "bought" and traded cricketers for huge sums, and will have mud on their face if these don't turn up due to perceived security problems.

So they make outrageous security demands from the government during election time. Refusals from the government are blithely dismissed as political posturing. In the meanwhile, someone somewhere is quietly moving the jamboree out of India. So that the foreign players will turn up. The Indian players will miss out on so much family time because of travelling .They play for the country, and that dedication is ruthlessly exploited. So many people will stay away from the country and forget to vote. But who cares.

These big guys, non-playing, non-sporting IPL types, who have so much in life, money, power, prestige, hangers on, authority, and what have you, don't have one thing that Bhagabai has.

National pride.

Its your country, and its important that you vote. That you be there.

But is anyone listening ?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A colorful life

Just happened on to this post .

And it just occurred to me that how we perceive "color", really is a function of where we live, our family , our ages when color becomes an issue, and who else is involved in our handling of the "colorful" situation.....

This issue is not about race. It is about how our thinking processes are so sensitized to "color" per se, that sometimes we forget that we are dealing with someone for whom color is a fun thing, something in a garden, and a thing of beauty.

Children associate color with fun. Till , we adults , and maybe their growing-up, teaches them , about how the world thinks about it amidst humans and perceptions of power.

It sometimes makes me wonder,though, how , in this land with such vibrant colors , we insist on the two extremes.

My daughter has a wheatish complexion, and my son, older to her , is generally classified in India, as "fair". Till she started primary school, color was never an issue. She was supremely confident about her unshakable position as the family "star", thanks to being the youngest, a fairly competitive swimmer, and every one's favourite.

She once came back seething with anger from school. Cribbing about some girl or boy in her class, who ribbed her about being "black", unlike her brother, who was "white" , they said. She used to earlier deal with nasty comments saying "Come to the pool, I'll show ya.." and possible humiliation by a slip of a girl kept folks away.

Till we told her that one didn't go around threatening and challenging like this. And I kept thinking about how to explain things to her. She was at an age when her color was not a burning sociological issue to her. She just wanted to get back at her troublesome classmates.

And so I told her that NO color was bad. There were very fair types who had very black minds, and very dark types who were white as snow in their minds. You needed to know a person's behaviour well, to know whether he was good or bad.

She kind of looked at me skeptically. I was talking to her like their teacher sometimes did, and it was like some people spoke on TV and everyone applauded.

She nodded.

Then I had an idea.

"Look, if anyone calls you black/dark, just go ahead and call him yellow, orange , green or blue. You can even call him pink and purple, and brown. "

Her face creased into a smile. This was doable.

Growing up when I did, aware of the problems of race, apartheid, social distinctions et al, I was trying to be ultra sensitive about color and explain things an adult's way.

That world surely existed. But she had not yet plunged into that world. Her world was all about taking on the teasing. She would do the same if anyone dared comment on her brother, who was supremely unaware of all this stuff going on in my daughter's primary class.

The next time this happened in class, the whole thing degenerated into a game of calling each other by various colors. Instead of it becoming an ultra sensitive issue, it got trivialized to such an extent, that it even developed into a game played in the recess, where the girls enjoyed my daughter's take on the whole thing and it became a girls vs boys thing.

Today, 15 years later, she is a young woman, comfortable in her own skin. She is still wheatish, her brother is still "white" :-) . She has seen the ways of the world. She reads, She watches current events unfold. She accompanied me to the US a few years ago, and I caught up with my grad school roommates from 38 years ago, with whom I still keep contact. We stayed with some of my roommates, and she got along better than like a house-on-fire, with them. One of them was African American, and one of them , well, a European American. She had a whale of a time in both places, and enjoyed meeting their families. She is treated by both as a favourite niece and indulged in.

She has learned what color means, in a gradual way, commensurate with her development from childhood to adulthood. She knows how the world treats color. She has seen the ways of the world. And she can deal with them.

And to paraphrase something Albert Schweitzer said, she knows, that
her true worth , today, is not to be found in herself, but in the colors and texture that she can bring alive in others around her......

But back then in primary school, maybe she should have seen this :

While walking in a toy store ,The day before today,
I overheard a Crayon Box, With many things to say.

"I don't like red!" said Yellow, And Green said, "Nor do I!
And no one here likes Orange, But no one knows quite why."

"We are a box of crayons that really doesn't get along,"
Said Blue to all the others, "Something here is wrong!

Well, i bought that box of crayons And took it home with me
And laid out all the crayons So the crayons could all see

They watched me as I colored With Red and Blue and Green
And Black and White and Orange And every color in between

They watched as Green became the grass And Blue became the sky.
The Yellow sun was shining bright On White clouds drifting by.

Colors changing as they touched, Becoming something new.
They watched me as I colored, They watched till I was through.

And when I'd finally finished, I began to walk away.
And as I did the Crayon box Had something more to say...

"I do like Red!" said the Yellow And Green said, "So do I!
And Blue you are terrific! So high up in the sky."

We are a Box of Crayon Each of us unique,
But when we get together The picture is complete.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

F.R.I.E.N.D.S and G.E.S.T.U.R.E.S...........

Back in the late sixties/early seventies , when I was a graduate student in the US, it wasn't very common to see hoards of Indian students that you see today in US universities. It was even more uncommon to see female Indian students, who were single. Meeting someone like this from India was a fairly entertaining thing for the natives.

I became great friends with my fellow TA's and RA's and they would be absolutely amazed when they mentioned someone
they knew from India, and I would, sight unseen, say something like "Oh, he's from the south, or "probably from Delhi" etc; basically make a guess on which part of India they belonged to. It took me a while to realize that the ease with which I could classify a Venkatachalam as being from Chennai and a Chatterji as hailing from Bengal, was something unique that I grew up with and took for granted.

And this was totally amazing to folks in a country where a person called Johnson could simply be from any of the 51 states, and even if your name had , say German or French overtones, it didn't localize you to a particular region of America. A Gonzalez could be from Chicago, and a Palin could be from Alabama......

While interstate migrations in India do take place freely , the various folks from various states continue to pursue their language and other regional loyalties in matters of family , cuisine, worship and so on.

This is the story of of Bill who came in those days as a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Maharashtra. He stayed for 2 years, and was great friends with us, and was, and has remained, almost like a member of our family.

He had some rudimentary training in spoken Marathi before coming here, and he fine tuned that during his stay
of two years so well, that he was able to understand idiomatic things and in what context they were applicable etc. He was also a great observer of the fine distinctions in the cultures of the various parts of the society he lived in.

He has made several trips to India since finishing up with the Peace Corps in early 70's. Mostly to look up friends and attend celebrations of various life events, in families he regarded as his own.

His mother is almost 90, and she was curious about India. Last year, he made the trip, along with his mother, to take her to the village where he worked, places in Pune he frequented, and of course, came to visit me, in Mumbai ,since I am the only member of my family, left in India now.

Unlike his own trips where he enjoyed roughing it out in buses and trains, he checked into a five star hotel in Mumbai with his mother, so she would be comfortable. In a culture where everything was so different, it would take time for her to acclimatize. The hotel had a car rental list from which you could choose, and he remembered the guy he had used when he landed in Mumbai. A local Maharashtrian guy, Dilip Sathay who had just started this service, and was eager to take him around. The fellow was totally impressed by the 90 year old lady, and the fact that she was travelling all over the place without making a fuss about the heat and dust.

They started on their way to us, a trip that would take roughly 45 minutes at noon.

Bill is not the quiet type and likes to chat with the drivers. So he got talking, and found out that this driver Dilip, was a college graduate, who did not want to do a regular job , but was interested in starting a business. So he took a loan and started this car hire-transport business, where you could hire a car and driver for a price.

The guy mentioned his last name. Wheels started whirring in Bill's head. He knew enough about certain name constructs here, to be able to identify the cultural/geographical subclass of the gentleman.

Bill cleared his throat. Turned to talk to Dilip in the driver's seat ....

"You must be an "ekaranti Konkanastha Brahmin" ( belonging to the class that claims ancestors from the coastal Konkan region, and whose names end in the sound "-ay", a well known classification ( a bit like that of Boston and New England types in attitude :-) ).....

Dilip almost braked to a sudden stop.

He was totally stunned. He realized and gathered himself together with haste, so as to not alarm the old lady. And started talking to Bill. He was curious to know how Bill learned all this. How did he remember things that even people within the state, didn't bother to learn in these modern times? How did Bill know so many Marathi words ? How long did he learn ?

Bill explained things to him, smiled, and then waived his hand and said something .

" Mi tujza barsa jewloye" , (meaning, "I have eaten at your naming ceremony, when you were born") , something that idiomatically implies that "you are asking questions about something that I am deeply well versed in, and such is the depth of my knowledge. ...."

Dilip was absolutely stunned. To hear these words from an American in an accent, but so perfect in the choice of application, was just too much.

He suddenly thought Bill was one of his own. He stopped the car. His family had a home style catering business midtown. Diwali sweets were being made on order currently, and he wished to present Bill some. Would they agree to a small detour ?

Bill's mother who was observing, was willing and intrigued. They detoured into Dadar, a part of Central Mumbai, which is like the oldest and most popular market area for us middle class types. He pulled up besides an old building in a semi residential area. Rushed inside. In the meanwhile, little boys playing outside gravitated to the car to see just who was travelling with Dilip today; usually he never brought anyone home.

A few minutes later, Dilip rushed out with a shopping bag with a bunch of packets inside. His mother and sisters ran a catering business. These were freshly made sweets and savouries of that festival season, and he was overcome with appreciation and thrilled at meeting someone like Bill who was almost being thought of as an honorary Maharashtrian by now.

As he got into the car and presented the bag to Bill and his mother, his mother and sister appeared on the scene. A fair oldish lady, in a nine yard saree, worn working style, wiping her hands on her saree end, and then fanning her face. Her son had mentioned the guests. She looked for Bill's mother, raised her hand to wish her well, and they both smiled at each other , with an expression that said ,..." These young people., so excited about things, ... always in a hurry :-)".

Her daughters, not at a loss for words, rushed up to the side of the car to talk to their brother, wave at Bill's mother, and peer in. Bill did a namaste to them and they greeted him back.

The car started, and glided out of the narrow gate, with Bill's mother wondering what to do with all these snacks which were absolutely strange to her.

They arrived at my place in time for lunch. Bill handed over a bag to me. And told me the story.

These were things my family loved. We made them during festival time. This was a bit later, but Bill and his mother wouldn't really be eating much of it. Bill enjoyed a piece with us, and the rest got passed around !

Dilip, of course waited for them till the evening to drive them back. In between we took Bill's mother and Bill, for a drive around our campus.

Dilip was totally mortified at us bringing out our 37 year old Fiat , (with special features, like, dents, involuntary sliding windows, tilted mudguards, seats that exhaled when you sat, places on the floor that gave you a vision of the actual road below, and bangable doors), for the purpose.

Bill's mother sat comfortably in front, and was totally amused by Dilip's concern. She asked me what Dilip was saying. I told her that he offered to take us around in his newer car, and he didn't think that you deserved this antique rattling jalopy......

She looked at Dilip. patted the outside of our car, then pointed Io herself, and twisted her index finger and middle finger, as if to say, "we are a pair !".

The car, dented with old age, but still clutching and accelerating noisily, but earnestly, for old times sake, albeit in a rattling manner; and she, sprightly, erect, full of enthusiasm, overflowing with humor and understanding, silver haired, in a golden moment......

And Dilip gave hearty laugh as he realized what she was saying.

It didnt matter if you were ", Kokanastha Ekaranti", and from the heart of Mumbai's old parts, or if you were from the poshest part of one of America's largest states; it certainly didn't matter if you couldn't speak each others language fluently, or even less.

Between an enterprising young man full of beans, and a "young " lady of 90, they spoke the same language.....and even understood...

So well.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Ukhanas in the time of IT : "Taking the name"

One of the finer distinctions between , say Indian weddings and Western weddings, is the undeniable sense of there being two sides , that you get in an Indian wedding. There is the Groom's side, and then there is the Bride's side. Both are accompanied by several generations of folks, right from a mother-in-law's mother-in-law to a cousin''s newborn. Unlike Western weddings where there is a separation of say, the couple and everyone else, the former in conference with the priest, and everyone else, watching sedately from a distance, in Indian weddings, its considered absolutely OK to hover around the couple at all times.

Once the mandatory religious rituals are over, the social customs take over. Over the last 20-30 years, society has changed, but we do continue to follow certain customs, simply because they are so quaint, and other folks have a lot of fun.

One of these customs has to do with the recitation of what is known as Ukhana's.

Ancient customs decreed that a woman should never say her husband's name. It might have had something to do with instilling a sense of superiority in some people, and inferiority in some others. ( Its like you don't call the British monarch, Elizabeth, or even Mrs Stuart. Its the "royal we" syndrome. ) .

You never ever used his name, whether addressing the husband, or referring to him. You had to appear suitably reticent or unwilling if forced to say his name. That was "good breeding". There was a time when you addressed every male you met , only in the second person plural, out of sheer conditioning and observation of other ladies doing the same. If absolutely unavoidable, say, in a crowded situation where he was running to catch a train and you found out that the arrival platform had just changed, you called out to "so-and-so's father".

What happened if there were many children named so-and-so, or, if there were no children, sort of baffles me, but our women are and were so resourceful, that it doesn't worry me.

And yes, the sky doesn't fall. There is always another train....

However, in a major concession to the memory neurons that grow , develop, and remember things out of frequent usage, we had, and continue to have customs and occasions, where not only does the wife utter the husband's name, but instead of utilizing the imperative mode , she says it in a graceful rhyming couplet or 4-line verse (called an Ukhana), sedately , seated in finery, eyes downcast, secret glances at the in-laws , and a gentle clearing of her throat.

The last is understandable if you realize, that frequently, the first time this happens , is in the wedding lunch.

Literally translated, this event is called "Taking the name". The bride and groom are seated at special seats along with the groom's immediate relatives, usually with special fancy plates and stuff. There is this clamor from assorted elderly ladies, and people you cannot refuse. The bride stands up, takes a piece of whatever from her plate, looks up, takes a deep breath, and says some rhyming couplet, where generally the second line mentions the husband's name. Once the words are done with, she feeds the morsel of whatever to her husband, and everyone , after making approving noises, gets on with the business of eating . These days, the husbands too, are made to do this.
Earlier the rhymes had to do with life, gardens, fruit, perfume, good luck, respect, food, god ,worship, woods, jewellery and lots of similar things. They said stuff about spending your married days in your garden of happiness, bringing honor to the new family, being an adornment to the new family , and so on. There are actually books that are published with Ukhanas for all occasions and so on.

A few examples with rough translations. (xxxx throughout will refer to the name of the spouse)

मात्यापित्यांच्या छायेत फुलासारखी वाढले,
आजच्या दिनी xxxx च्या चरणावर जीवनपुष्प वाहिले.

(I have flowered and prospered in the shelter of my parents; now today I dedicate my life like a flower at the feet of xxxx)

दोन वाति एक ज्योति,दोन शिम्पले एक मोति, xxxx रावाचि मि सौभाग्यवति.

(Two wicks , but a single flame, two shells but a single pearl, I have the good fortune to be the wife of xxxx)

You get the idea.

In keeping with globalization, the IT generations, the large number of women who work today, and so on, a need was felt to upgrade the tenor of these ukhanas. Also, today many weddings take place out of India, where the bride and groom work, their friends attend, who only understand English, so there was a suggestion to have English Ukhanas.

In keeping with the times, these are Unisex. Both the bride and groom can use these. A groom saying these will win extra applause.

Beautiful are the flowers , sweet is the fruit,
In XXX's life's OS , I have become root

Some say Blogger , some say Wordpress,
As xxxx's partner, I will try my best...

There are new jewellery shops in Sunnyvale, I'm told
XXXX, did you hear that ? I need to buy some gold......

Some Google for food, some Google for a name,
XXXX, just use Yahoo, if you forget my name.....

I am the memory slot, in the motherboard of your life,
XXXX, the cake is great, would you pass the knife ?

Some blog for money, some blog for fun,
XXXX, in your life, I 'm the important one ....

Restarts in life, you need ctrl-ALt-Delete,
XXXX, the car keys just dropped by your feet....

The next one guaranteed to please the inlaws....

This new life stage is booting, systems undergo some checks,
xxxx, to your family, I offer my deep and hearfelt respects....

Some work in compilers, some do databases,
xxxx, frequent flier miles will now take us places

Obama has won, but the economy is down,
XXXX, I still have my job, don't frown.......

Snow in LA and Texas, they say its all Climate change,
xxxx, with you, my happiness goes out of range......

Snow flakes in Colorado, Vermont in the fall,
xxxx, I still want to go see the great Taj Mahal

Jewellery visuals in .gif, diamonds in .jpg,
xxxx is so brilliant, i dont need more, you see.....

And so it continues.

Just some fun , in a life , where you are destined to the say the same name in different ways, for the rest of your life. .

And like Salman Rushdie said
, "Names, once they are in common use, quickly become mere sounds, their etymology being buried, like so many of the earth's marvels, beneath the dust of habit."

But I like more, what a Chinese Proverb says.

"The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names."

In a rhyming couplet, may I add.........

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Champagne and Lemonade ?

There are two types of folks.

Those who make other people dance to their tunes. And those who dance to other peoples tunes. And between the guru-style and dancer-style attitudes, lie those , who keenly observe human nature, become great judges of people, and benefit, often in tangible ways.

Padmaja was to come live in the building. Those who didn't know her , welcomed the news. Those who did know her, raised their eyebrows and wondered what kind of a response, the falling standards of maintenance of the building ostensibly due to lack of funds (we live in institutionally owned residences), would evoke from her.

They soon heard.

From the unending lines of carpenters , masons, plumbers, electricians, painters, helpers, and assorted supervisory types who appeared with regularity, with a permanent disapproving frown on their qualified visages. Here was something taking place for months after the allotment took place.
Typically, an apartment was checked, repaired wherever required, declared fit for human habitation, and only then allotted through a list.

Once in a while, an open door would
reveal folks standing inside , inspecting stuff, then a lady's voice expressing voluble disapproval, some discussion , and the drilling, and banging and whizzing would start all over again.

Finally after 4 months of this the people moved in.

I went on a welcome visit.

Not yet clear as to who was welcoming who.

There was a palpable sense of superiority pervading everywhere. It almost felt, it was like going from my grad school university apartment , say, to the White House.

Residents of such houses also live that image. At any time, you expect a royal flick of a wrist followed by a raised eyebrow, downward look , intriguing in its obliqueness. You can almost see the ants in the balcony scurrying for cover. And the children of the family never leave their school books in the living room.

There were massive changes to the place, which I had hoped for , only in my dreams. Never had the guts to realize those dreams, due to the awareness that this was not my own home, and I couldn't demand stuff which would cost the exchequer so much.

She showed me around and I truly admired the stuff, as well as her capacity to get these things done.

" I don't care. I cant cook here. It is SO hot. And what kind of an exhaust fan is that ? I just told them , I am not going to tolerate this. They can come stand there when I am cooking and notice the heat. Stupid ventilation. Then I got all this plumbing shifted out of here. Even within the bathrooms I had them shift the sink. And you know what, there simply isn't a proper place to place my AC's. I have now asked them to change these cupboard doors. Simply disgusting. And I have asked them to plan for an additional limb of the L of the kitchen counter ....... "

The house would have made it to the Interiors magazine. The expense would have been borne by the Institute that owned the building. Stupid and dense folks, like your truly do not realize that placing orders for stuff tends to warm a lot more pockets, than the vendor's.

And then there is Veena. The apartment she has, earlier housed a family with 3 children. The fixtures around the house show appropriate wear and tear. The house gets painted officially, once in 6 years , and she will tolerate certain rain-based automatic artwork appearing on the walls, till her turn comes. It's possible to hide that with book cases and wall hangings. She has got some extra electrical fittings installed in her house at her own cost. One of the sinks is developing a leak. But it is in one of the bathrooms, so she isn't unduly concerned. (Indian middle class bathrooms do not resemble rooms for relaxing, and in particular, it isn't the custom to have mats on the floor. The cool floor is more more pleasant, in a hot and searing Mumbai. )

She has asked for some repair work on some kitchen shelves. Three fellows have come to have a look and gone. She will wait for a while and then make that phone call to someone, one level above the fellows. And yes, her kitchen is identical to Padmaja's in size and shape, but she has installed a ceiling fan to cool herself on sweaty occasions in front of the stove, as she wipes her face with her saree end, and tries to fan herself with the same. There is a sense of staying within some kind of vaguely defined limits. There seems to be less of "I want" and more of "We'll try"....

The women who come to help in the housework in both these houses, have been coming to my house for years. Long before they started there.

So I get to hear all such things, about new arrivals, possible departures, highhandedness , troublesome ladies, nice ladies, sweet children, quirky children, and all sorts of stuff, when they finish their work at my place and sit down to have a cuppa. These ladies have worked for years in the building. Seen lots of occupants come and go. I am more or less a permanent fixture, at least for another few years. And it is very interesting to listen to these women, who haven't changed an iota, as they wander through grand and not so grand and even simple houses, in the building, doing basically the same type of work.

Padmaja is ambitious. She demands and gets what she wants. She couldn't care less what it costs as she isn't paying. But things must befit what she considers her "status". She doesn't bother about antagonizing anybody else, unless it is someone that will matter to her husband's career. I guess that part is true the world over. There is a distinct sense of me-up-here-you-wallowing-there when you deal with her. But her house impresses the hell out of first time visitors.

Veena, comes across as a very friendly lady. Fairly firm about what she wants, but not about to get into a traumatic dither if it doesn't happen. That's life. She will think several times about demanding something in her house that other flats are not provided with. She is probably more amenable to the entire building getting together, discussing and asking for something to be done, formally, so that the changes are done as a policy decision rather than a personal favour. In a closed society, everything she does reflects the quality of the act on her husband, and she is very very careful.

But it also means that occasionally some family visitors will remark on the bad upkeep of the building. Hint that her contemporaries are into getting interiors "done up" . But like Padmaja, she is a strong lady. Unlike Padmaja, she keeps to the straight and narrow path, enjoying the grass and flowers as she continues to see the far away stars only in her dreams.

Both ladies follow a lifestyle. The ethics of it all, is something that families pick up as they observe and imbibe from the attitudes, and the process of living. It is possible that in today's world, it helps to be a Padmaja. On the other hand, I would hate it if I had to go through life following norms and standards fixed by others, who possibly have no work and lots of free time. Being a Veena won't get you any prizes anywhere. But it will teach you to learn to live within your means, and avoid, what maybe called a hankering lifestyle. Which, again, in today's world , may or may not be considered smart.

Padmaja or Veena. One who enjoys guru-gestures in the dance of life, and the other, who quite simply, enjoys the dance, broken stage and all.

While i can make a quick and fast choice here, I wonder what people think....

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Approximately Inaccurate ......अंदाज़पंचे ....

For a country that is supposed to have bequeathed the world the concept of zero, and students with great mathematical proclivities , we thrive on being knowingly inaccurate at times, to such an extent, that sometimes I wonder, if, maybe we picked up the inaccurate-gene or something, at some point in the vast migrations that took place across continents, aeons ago....

Driving on a long distance trip out of state, and we are only just waking up to the fact that one can bypass cities on the way, which are not your destination. City bypasses are being constructed, where earlier one traversed the city.

There was a time, when one suddenly found oneself entering a city, and before you knew it you were in the middle of downtown. Most signboards were so old, they were covered with creepers descending across their faces. If there happened to be a signboard you could read, it was always possible that the road it showed was extinct. Sometimes, a new road came up out of sheer population ingenuity, and when you tried to smartly take a left turn, you were suddenly faced with two roads on your left.

The smart thing to do then, was to slow down, stop and ask rickshaw driver. Nine times out of 10, he'd say something like, "go straight". When you'd ask "how far", they'd always say " Oh, it's 1 or 2 "furlongs", in an unintended dramatic defiance of the metric system. What is interesting is that regardless of the actual distance of the road leading out of the city (from downtown) , it's always 1 or 2 furlongs.

So you kind of meander through the city, take unintended turns here and there, and in general get to see a new city. Every city in India is different. There is no concept of avenues and streets gracefully cutting each other at right angles, and a main road meandering through the centre. Shops are not always necessarily on the main road. They could be almost anywhere.

Sometimes you'd see a heritage bungalow (where the occupants themselves didn't know they were heritage types), happy in the fact that their grandfather built the house brick by brick and each room had a story to tell; and they were least bothered about the golden arches of McD coming up right next to them. You suddenly came across an imposing ancient looking temple, and if you had parents along with you, a stop there was guaranteed. Someone would get talking to someone while coming out of there, post-worship , and a well informed gent would give you better instructions, complete with traffic circles, significant signs and structures on the way, where not to stop , etc etc.

Back in 1977, on a car trip from North Kerala ( a narrow north-south expanse) down to the tip of India, we just kept driving mile after mile, furlong after furlong , entering and leaving cities, interspersed with fields, weekly bazaars, that merged from one city into another, and before we knew it, we were at the confluence of the Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean , and Bay of Bengal.

I think things have improved considerably on the main highways, but still remain happily unchanged in the small inland rural areas.

In a connection that would have the late Albert (Einstein to you) rejoice, we Indians also extend the principle of vast inaccurate approximation, to time. Even if it naturally doesn't, we dilate time. Relatively.

Millions of jokes are cracked based on Indian Standard Time. You are considered close to foolish if you land up accurately on time. It means if you are invited for a wedding reception at 7 pm, you go around 8.30 pm, unless you want to arrive before the bride and the groom. Most shameless types have redefined this as Indian Stretchable Time.

Except for movies, TV programs, , train and bus departures ,and examinations, most things happen on IST. I was going to include airline departures, but people have been known to sit in planes only to find out they are at their departure point 2 hours later, thanks to some dignitaries flying in and out, and being pushy about it.

If you are invited somewhere at 8 pm for dinner, its always advisable to eat at home at 8 pm and saunter in at 10 pm. You will still be early for the actual dinner. Sometimes a persons status is directly proportional to how late he can arrive for functions. And still be early.

This is particularly chronic amongst people in the performing and political arts.

But like Dirt, which is suddenly coming into the limelight as a useful thing , thanks to research in Universities, this "inaccurate" mode of time and space definition, has unexpected benefits.

Sometimes , it is unusually beneficial to be inaccurate.

The recent Mumbai Carnage terrorists, were supposed to have trained on Google Earth, and familiarized themselves with the Mumbai terrain that they were to function in. Reports have it that they memorized the roads and byways.

In a city with great and accurate road distribution, clearly defined street names and the like, Google Earth would have been a boon.

But Mumbai has a proclivity for frequently digging up roads, creating diversions, and , changing existing road names , particularly if they have a connotation with something Royal and British. And names of places that bore the names of Albert and Victoria, have been changed with great alacrity to names of Indian Freedom fighters. The city-of-Mumbai's population, also has a proclivity for creating newer pathways, by sheer persistent large volume human usage, with a fine disregard for municipal rules, and realization of slow monitoring by authorities.

The two terrorists who killed hundreds at the CST Railway station in South Mumbai, escaped from there and emerged on to what they thought was a road to the police headquarters (as per their e-training on Google Earth), but actually ended up on a back entry road to a big municipal hospital.

Their plans had to undergo a quick change, and the sudden arrival of the police, panic shooting and takeover of vehicles, forced the two terrorists to take off and drive, on whichever roads that occurred through their windscreen.

That these actions led to a roadblock on the sea face is well known , but one of the biggest benefits, of the confusion, caused by things not being accurate as Google Earth, was, that one terrorist was caught alive, something that was not intended to be so. And that he was overpowered , not by an accurate rifle shooter, but by a brave heart middle aged policeman, who jumped on him, covered his weapon with himself, and wrestled the guy to the floor. The brave policeman was posthumously awarded the country's highest award in January. The terrorist, awaits his trial in jail.

Today the confession of this lone terrorist has pointed fingers in various significant directions
. And a charge sheet has been filed.

But we are funny people.

We are achingly accurate where not required.

Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist and his dead colleagues are being prosecuted for 12 crimes, among which are , serious stuff , like waging war against India, murder of 169 people, terrorism, destruction of property, conspiracy, weapons and immigration violations.

Somewhere in the 5000 page charge sheet, lies a crime included for the sake of accuracy .

Entering the Railway platform concourse without a valid ticket. ........

That's tough.

As they say, "What to do ? We are like that only ......"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Changing Evil

Possession of gold , besides being a smart thing to do today, has , since time immemorial, been considered a prudent thing to do in a typical Indian household. Families will put aside a small amount each month, save , and when sufficient funds have collected, invest it in gold. This has become more and more difficult as the price of gold has shot up, and is many times more (per 10 gms), than what a person can save each month. We even have three and a half auspicious days during a given year, on which it is considered very beneficial, lucky and advisable to buy gold, no matter how little.

It is very common to see an Indian woman, who hasn't much to speak of , in terms of what is defined as a "wardrobe" , proudly display a couple of gold necklaces around her neck on a permanent basis. Young girls will typically sport chains with lockets, sensible earrings. In Maharashtra, my state, women who are married will sport a special necklace called a mangalsutra.

In its original form, the mangalsutra was a combination of gold and black beads on a thread dyed with turmeric paste, and this was tied around the brides neck, by the husband, as part of the wedding rituals. The turmeric and gold was purity and auspiciousness, and black was for warding off the evil eye. By and by, the simple thread gave way to elaborate n-tier necklaces with black beads and gold beads, diamonds and pearls. Today, although there is a huge variety in the mangalsutras one may wear, there has been no change in the occasion for wearing them. These are worn almost full time by married women, with the most ordinary clothes, as well as special occasion attire. Something like the wedding band in western societies....

With a growing workforce of women, in a fast moving city like Mumbai, a glance at the ladies compartment in a suburban train , or even the platform, indicates amazing varieties of these mangalsutras, that stand out against the work day outfits. With a 15 second stop at each station, the crowds, and the rising value of gold (when was the last time you rejoiced over a fall) , for years together, we have had to suffer what are called Pickpocket Ladies who specialise in picking these necklaces off necks with great dexterity and finesse, in those crowded 10 seconds at the door. And so, to meet the need, an entire market of fake gold jewellery happened. Women started buying fake-but-look-original mangalsutras, expressly wearing them to work and when commuting in crowds.

This is a story , from one of Mumbai's western suburbs, a few years ago.....

An acquaintance, who had bought one of these fake jewellery items, was returning from work one evening, and while alighting from the crowded train , felt something slide. By the time she pulled herself together, rearranged her sari, and checked her purse, she realized her necklace was no longer there. Looking for it was useless. The train had left, and probably, so had the thief, sitting in it with a pleased look. Besides, the necklace was a fake. She had work to do, so she shook her self out of this trauma, and walked home.

The next evening, she was on the same train, with another spare fake necklace. She got off along with her friends, At some point , she parted with her friends , and was passing the corner near her house, when someone whizzed past in a rickshaw, slowed down near her, threw a broken necklace on her face, and shouted ," Have you no shame, that you are wearing false gold ? take this ....", and the 3 wheeler raced away.

Besides being alarmed about how much the thief had followed you, you were supposed to feel sorry for cheating the thief out of a costly aquisition......:-)

Conspicuous jewellery was bad news indeed, and , it also brought home the fact, that , apparently today, thievery was a valid occupation.

But this is, doubtlessly, a universal happening. The fact, that it's valid to be evil.

Why did I suddenly remember the event above?

First, because tonight we celebrate the festival of Holi. This "festival of colors", in its serious aspect, relates to some mythological stories where good wins over evil, and the evil is burnt off in the form of public bonfires everywhere, and where the Gods are worshipped on this night. In its less serious aspect, Holi signifies the end of an arduous winter(particularly in the north), and the approach of a riotous spring, dazzling with colors of nature.

It also signifies a temporary end to stuffiness, and a "letting go of things" , where both sexes, enjoy throwing color on each other, sometimes in powder form, sometimes in great big ponds of colored water, and there is song and dance, and drinks spiked with stuff designed to loosen inhibition. Anything goes. And there is even an associated language construct that says "Bura na mano, holi hai" , which means, "Don't take offense, after all, its Holi !"........

The second , is because of something I read in the newspapers.

Evil things today, are akin to, and are being handled like corporate activities. The Lashkar-e-toiba, the terrorist outfit that planned and executed the Mumbai Carnage 26/11, and whose four top echelon leaders, are supposedly in the "custody" of the Pakistan Government, recently announced, publicly, that since its top brass was not "available(!)" , they were now appointing 4 new faces, that would take care of performing terrorist activities in specific places , in and around India.

They had photos of these guys, description of their previous exploits, and their geographical regions of responsibility.
Very corporate behaviour. No one remarked on the audacity of this. No one raised a hue and cry about how folks were allowed to hold press conferences in Paksitan to announce this, and how a government that shouts from the rooftops about cooperating with India in the blasts and carnage, can just sit by and not rush and round up these newly appointed terrorist people.

The lone captured terrorist from the Mumbai 26/11 carnage has been given a charge sheet. The Indian papers report on the railways insisting on adding to all the heinous crimes , the crime of entering the railway concourse without a platform ticket! Should he have said "Sorry , old chap, let me just get a ticket, and then I will shoot ....?"

I think , like the onset of fake Mangalsutras, we now have a Fake Evil we burn on the festival of Holi. There is a noticeable lack of a sense of priorities. The emphasis is less on burning of real evil, and more on throwing of color and unusually active , hitherto prohibited mingling patterns, with folks of the opposite sex. And the emphasis, again, is less on actually doing something about the terrorism, than to be seen as doing something....

Our ancestors , regardless of religion, designed and followed many of our festivals as a way of teaching good citizenship, community behaviour and the like.

Sometimes I think we've modified things too much, and are missing the relevance.

Maybe we need to look out, work, understand and prepare for Festivals ver. 1.2......

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Testing times , Benin times....

.....Now I lay me down to rest
Pray I pass tomorrow's test
If I die before I wake
That's one less test I have to take.......

April is a busy time in India.

An educational system, that makes students study, the whole year's syllabus for a single exam, that can make or break your career, happens in April, and later. The various Board examinations still use the antiquated traumatic grading system where a 40/100 has you passing, but a 39/100 throws you into tears and desolation. Then there is this perverse pleasure the school boards get, in fixing your examination center far away from your Alma mater. It is certainly not as if the walls of your own classrooms are carved with examination answers and chemical formulae, or that friendly invigilating folks specialize in turning a blind eye to things.

As if this is not enough, this year the National elections have been announced in April. The Indian Premier League, has also announced its cricket in April. Most parents are worried.

Elections mean candidate processions, loud spouting of fiction and lies over public address systems, blaring songs of praise set to popular tunes, and a different kind of Green Revolution, having to do with lucre-based political turnarounds. As if this is not enough, the Indian Premier league will broadcast, almost every alternate day, the T20 cricket matches, complete with cheerleaders, bands etc.

I know families where the parents of children appearing for the Boards are in more tension than the students. The entire year's schedule is based in the child's requirements. Cable connections are put on hold. Outings and vacations are postponed. Guests planning to travel from outstation for a family wedding and planning to put up at your place, are faced with alternative suggestions. I know a family which disconnected the TV, packed it up in the box and left it high up in the loft for a full year.

How times have changed.

We had no television, no FM, in fact no commercial radio, no cell phones, and the telephone had just made an entry a year before my board exams. Not just our families, but our neighbors were cognizant of the significance of board exams, and helped in their own way. Playing loud rock music was NOT the popular thing then, and studying to background music with suspect wording was totally frowned upon. Not that those were the days on individual music systems, but we were resourceful.

The last few months before the Boards were dedicated to practice sessions, where we got hold of the last several years' question papers from the libraries, and bookstores, and sat and wrote out the answer papers for practice. Our teachers at school encouraged us to do this, vis-a-vis a clock, to time our answers. We used to take these papers to them for evaluation, grading and suggestions. Sometimes, if it was a weekend, the teacher would call us home, and a grading session would end up with some wonderful eats, prepared by Mrs Teacher, and indulgently offered to the hard working student.

We studied late, as well as at the crack of dawn. I remember hearing the alarm clock and emerging like a robot from my mosquito-netted bed. I would be trying to get my bearings for a few seconds, when my Grandmother, who stayed with us then, would tiptoe in, her back bent with age, smelling of incense and flowers, fresh from her 4 am prayers , called "kakadarti" .

That was a signal for me to shake myself out of the lethargy, freshen up and get organized for a dawn study session, as my grandma appeared once again with a refreshing cup of ginger tea, my share of the wonderful early morning tea she usually had. Don't know if it was the ginger, the tea, or the infused care and good wishes, but it kind of shook up the neurons into an alert stage, and my studies continued where I had left them off the night before. At daybreak, when I was deep into some formula, conjugation or essay or something, my mother would come sit for a while with milk, fruit, and some hot breakfast for me, and would sometimes shush my brother who was making a noisy fuss about his school uniform, and missing pens (with accusatory glances in my direction).

Examination days , one took it a bit easy. Your preparation was complete. You were relaxed. A recce of your examination centre had been made by some cousin or uncle, who knew exactly how early one had to start from home. Brothers even offered you their extra pens, sharpeners and protractors and stuff.

Sometimes we had 2, 3-hour papers in a day. The end of the first session, at 2 pm, would see a whole bunch of parents coming by with refreshments. April was burning hot, with non existent humidity in my hometown. It was a season for a cooling raw mango drink made from steamed raw mango pulp, jaggery, cardamom, and saffron. It was also a season for refreshing freshly squeezed lemonade. Grapes , just out of refrigerators also made an appearance. And the small garden at the examination centre would be dotted with folks having all this stuff, parents anxiously standing by. There would be a lot of sharing of stuff, and some of my friends whose parents couldn't come, never felt they were alone, as they were cajoled into having some more fruit, or a glass of mango "panha", not to be gulped, but to be peacefully sipped as you thought about your next exam that afternoon.

In those days before CocaCola and tissues, come parents even came with freshly washed cotton towels, which were dipped in cold water and offered , so the children could refresh their hot tired faces, after emerging from a non-AC room, where 2 fans were not working, and not a single leaf moved on a given tree if you looked outside through a large window.

The end of the second session at 6 pm, would see a carefree set of students emerging, with no other schedule to keep. Animated discussions about the questions, sneak glances at the so-called scholars to see what they had to say about the papers, and it was time to go home, relax for some time, maybe take a short nap. Folks came home from work, and you showed them the question paper, and watched their face. Wiser counsels often prevailed in the minds of parents. What was done , was done. And you got ready for another day at the exam centre.

Today , in Mumbai, the winner is Money.

If you have lots of it, you send your child to a school that follows an International Board. You pay scandalous amounts as fees. And move around with children at the highest echelons of society, where all transport has 4 wheels and is airconditioned, someone or the other is always related to someone in power; inability, unwillingness and aversion to using public transport is appreciated as a sign of your exclusive place in society, and you always speak of London when you talk about last summer.

If you have lots of it, you attend exclusive tuition classes over and above your school, with a car and driver totally at your disposal for travel. Your parents are normally, amazingly busy, earning their considerable livelihood, but your mealtimes happen on the dot. The food is wonderful, the feeling is missing. And you have your own television to "de-stress", and several cell phones so you can de-learn all the English you learned, as you message around. Your room AC failing, is a calamity.

If you have lots of it, your driver comes with an icebox and lunch box , in the recess between papers, and you sip a cola . You wont be found using anything but tissues to wipe your face, as you take bites of the sandwiches, specially ordered from the Taj.

And all this while, some, whose parents cannot afford to miss a work day, struggle to get on the Mumbai buses and trains, sometimes in advance by a couple of hours, so as to make it in time, regardless of possible delays. Cases of students desperate to make a specific train, trying to jump into a running train are well documented. Some make it , some don't. Today, those parents who can manage, take leave from work during exam week. Elderly grandparents at home, themselves in need of care, stoically tolerate delays, as their daughter-in-law juggles the exam timing, accompanying her son, and their own mealtimes.

The pressure often gets to the students. Some are known to start out from home and disappear for the duration of exams, only to return in the evening, Pressure to succeed, pressure to match up, pressure to see a smile on the face of your parents does that to you.

Some even give up and pay with their lives.

But for others, life is not easy. It is manageable with understanding and empathy from the family.

My generation enjoyed a lot of it. Empathy and support. Many of the current generation also do. We had lesser expectations, believed our teachers and parents, referred to our teachers in the second person plural, and had less, or even non-existent, supply of ideas from television , on how crime pays.

The Government and IPL certainly don't have any. Concern or Empathy.

And so you have episodes like students traveling for miles to their examination centre, only to have their road blocked by the police, who are monitoring the motorcade of the President of Benin, on a state visit to Mumbai; all traffic is halted, walkie talkies are active, occasional trespassers are chased around with a rod.

A quick flash of a smiling face and waving hands through tinted glass in a fancy car, and I am sure the President of Benin doesn't realize why an entire population below 20 doesn't wave back.

The students , delayed unexpectedly , in the middle of nowhere for 30 minutes, in a desperate panic, and getting late for exams, call up a thoughtfully set up Board helpline, and are guided to the nearest possible examination centre, where they may appear for their paper.

It is wonderful to know the Board cares.

But the Government ? The IPL ? The Police?

I am just wondering if anyone knows where Benin is , and why the President of Benin is here.