Monday, June 29, 2009

The Greening of the Met........

Time and again, our Met Office fails to predict the rains.

A few days ago , a week ago on Monday, someone there made a prediction, that the monsoon, would set in on Wednesday. With thunder showers. So desperate is the disbelief in the Met office, that hundreds of people went to work, on Tuesday itself , armed with assorted rain gear. Tuesday afternoon saw the clouds mobilising for the great event, with rain winds wildly rustling through the trees, the earth gave off that particular fragrance it does when it gives up on summer finally, and Tuesday saw a proper rain in the evening, like a strong preamble. At this point the Met Office forecast thundershowers the next day. Almost everyone in Mumbai knew there would be rain , even without the official prediction.

And predictably, there was no thunder. Again.

Maybe time has now come for us to review our current weather prediction technology.

The Doppler radar , advertised as God's gift to Mumbai's Met Office, has arrived, 4 years after the July 2005 deluge, and since it takes 2-3 months to set up, will be useless this year.

I sometimes feel very disappointed with technology , particularly if it involves needles doing graphs, and humans taking casual looks at them between sips of tea, and postulations about El Nino,Global warming,Al Gore and other burning topics of the day..

So I have a very environment friendly, Green etc suggestion . There are certain techniques , used worldwide , for weather prediction. Implementing those will not involve importing machines that become obsolete, or terribly current machines getting hit by a falling flyover or tree or whatever.

In fact , what I suggest , will totally green the city.....

Compulsory planting of mangroves along the coast of Mumbai, leaving gaps for the harbour, beaches, and unavoidable points of natural entry into the sea. Banning of political meetings in green spaces earmarked for the citizens. Better upkeep and enhancement of the Mahim Nature Park, the only refuge of the remaining mangroves. And a wish that at some point, Nandan Nilekani is appointed as the "saviour" of Mumbai....

Upgradation of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with facilities for housing a large variety of animals and birds, with sufficiently expertly trained manpower to manage and monitor the quality and maintenance of the park resources.

Just outside the perimeter of the park , a science park for students, with appropriate observation machines like telescopes and microscopes, as well as a huge vegetable growing section, managed by the tribal original residents of that park area.

Why ? To predict the weather, is the simple answer.

Children at the science park , learning to observe the spectrum around the sun and moon, can become experts in predicting rain. If the diameter of the visible spectrum around the sun is bigger than that around the moon, rain is likely in a couple of days. Don't know about thundershowers. The crops need water, not noise , no?

Sparrows twittering together in a dry sand bed, indicates impending rain in a day or so. However, if they are fooling around in a pool of water, it means dry days are approaching.

Look for eggs of the Lapwing bird (Titwi). This bird never builds nests, but lays eggs of bare soil. If the eggs are found on a higher elevation in the fields/park, it means good rains are around the corner. Eggs laid in the lower level parts of the field, imply a confidence that there will be no danger from any rain, and hence there may be a drought.

If you see Mynah birds (starlings) bathing in water, it mean rain is around the corner.

Sometimes, you can observe insects around the house .Like dragonflies/monsoon flies. If you observe them swarming around over dry areas, it means rain in imminent. However, if they are seen over pools of water, then get ready for dry weather.

The ordinary centipedes also contribute to the knowledge. An approaching rain makes them worry about eggs, and they scurry about in swarms carrying their eggs to safe places, to avoid rainwater damage.

The House swift bird ( Ababeel, Babeela ) is a small, smoky-black bird with white throat.This bird frequents old forts, deserted houses and ruined buildings. When it is observed flying really high in the sky , it means rains are expected.

Animals too, do their bit

Camels in the zoo part of the park may teach the kids something. Turns out that a swelling on the lower part of the camel's legs, indicates imminent rain. Scientifically, it has to do with the effects of atmospheric humidity on the camels legs. But think. The swelling could have been anywhere, and if it had been, say, on the head or hump, humans would not have noticed. So there is a divine plan in making us observe the leg swelling on the camel, for prediction of weather.....

And finally, for those who prefer to garden, do observe your grass, and tomato and french bean plants. The pesky spiders know more about rain than we do. If you see spiderwebs on tomato plants, french beans and assorted grasses, then rest assured that rain will not be happening any time soon. ....

Notwithstanding all these wonderful green signs that teach us weather prediction, we humans, since ages, have only performed invasive rituals to propitiate rain. Praying for rain is probably the only non-invasive method.

In Punjab, a feast (varisty Puja) is organised by villagers collectively during summers, in the event of a long dry spell . All cry for rain and the children sing a song. The essence of the song is that "when children cry, God listens".

In China, huge dragons which were part of religious festivals were torn up when rains failed. Europe, did not lag behind. In many European countries, failing rains triggered an uprooting of saintly statues which were then rooted upside down in soil. As a means of protesting a drought , Italians even chained statues and clipped their wings to show their anger.

When Cajoling a God was unsuccessful, we unimaginative humans target the neighbors.

(Actually, come to think of it, this happens so often in Mumbai, anyway. Verbal and non verbal abuse amongst the neighbors, whether in housing,trains,buses, or just huge crowds. Shouldn't be difficult to figure out the rain. Maybe that's why we get maximum rain and flooding when the garbage clogs the storm drains.)

In Bengal when the end of the drought was not in sight, desperate people threw filth on the homes of their neighbors who in turn abused them; this was considered auspicious (!) for rainfall.

In societies where women are treated second class, like in the Shahpur district of Pakistan, people would throw a pot of filth (ouch!), on the threshold of a notorious old shrew of the area during a drought. This, not surprisingly, resulted in a fluent stream of foul language, which supposedly accelerated the onset of rain. What happens if there is no notorious shrew ? Is a badmouthing mafia don OK as a target for throwing pots of filth ? Are there any limits to foul language ?

Very very interesting. This connection between foul language , abuse and rain. Almost like creating a "dirt" situation of a certain magnitude, and then pleading with the rains to come and complete a comprehensive clean heavy duty wash.

All the more reason for us to consider the Green prediction methods of those lower on the Darwinian scale.
And all the more reason for us to teach our children to observe the sign
s for rain, in nature, rather than teach them the violent methods propagated by those who refuse to learn....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A frustrated lament

Once a tough minded tree
Reaching for the skies,
Her raised arms,
leave an unprotected trunk
Susceptible to the axe police.

Cuts on the surface,
Thrusts into the psyche,
She tries not to crumble,
Sheathed in a leafy wrap....
As Ill laden clouds,
Threaten the mind,
"You dare not grow
without me,
No standing at ease
Just a life long 'Attention!'...."

And as gardeners, and greeners
watch in despair,
She becomes a Sunflower,
blindly following
a lying sun
in connivance with the clouds,
Eyes wide shut,
The mind as blank
As a sheet covering a sofa,
Constantly wiped creaseless,
destroying reality,
A deafening deadness of mind.....

And the burning sun
Peers from behind
the murderous cloud,
and rejoices,
As one more layer of her mind
and dies.....

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flying High.....

She had been travelling outside India since 1948. When she first travelled go to the New York to join her husband , already there studying for his masters in Brooklyn , (the "Bombay" government then gave scholarships to deserving students), flying was still new. Her husband had gone a year ago, by ship.

Memories from her flight are still there in the form of black and white fading photographs with smiling pilots (wearing something that looked like a boiler suit with boots) , standing with her , just near the plane, parked on the tarmac, someplace midway, in Europe.
To this day I don't know how she managed that.

Many many years later, her children too went on to study in the US.
One returned. Some did not. Luckily, travel had become easier and faster. And so for about 50 years, till the end of the last century, she did many trips, to attend graduations, births, some one's Special Day, or someone being bestowed with an honor, or sometimes, to just help out in a difficult situation.

Airline food started having variety, vegetarians didn't suffer so much any more (being suddenly presented with turkey and chicken) , and of course, she didn't really care for the movies they showed in the plane. Whenever her ticket was booked, her children ensured that her food preferences were listed correctly, which didn't stop her from looking disapprovingly at the greasy and spicy stuff that was served sometimes......and that she was always assigned an aisle seat , so that she didn't have to trip over knees and stuff getting out of her seat to visit the loo etc.

Much to our wonder, she took to carrying packets of home made stuff in her purse, just in case, as she said. She never trusted all these posh airlines.
And we would just shake our heads....

Most flights to the US from India, take off at unearthly hours like 3 am or 4 am. Due to the propensity of large family groups, congregating to see a member off, entry to Indian airports, for those
not travelling, is through a hefty entry fee, which most people are not fond of. Today, however, all entry, except for passengers and folks with special permission, is banned.

When I went to see my mother off, on what was to be her last trip, I took special permission from the airport manager , something you could do if the passenger was 80+. My mother really needed physical help in handling her always bulging bags, filled with stuff that she was convinced, the US didn't carry in shops, and another person was really required to lift these onto the conveyor belts as security scanning was done.
This time she was carrying, among other things, hand pound rice, dehusked specially at home , and a large silver plate for the "first food" ceremony of the youngest grandson, still a baby.

Just when I was wheeling her cart to the check in counter (
beyond which stage I was not allowed), I heard a voice calling out to me. I was surprised to see a lady from our campus, M, who appeared to be extremely relieved to see me. She was flying for the first time ever in her life, that too, out of the country, by herself; her husband was not allowed inside, and she was a bit flustered. She thought I was travelling and was thrilled. I explained that I wasn't, but I introduced her to my mother. Turns out that she and my mother were taking the same flights to the same place, with the same change of flights in between. My mother told her not to worry, and to kind of "hang out" with her ..

They were assigned different seats far apart during the trip. The meal was served, and after having her predefined vegetarian meal, my mother left her seat, for what is called , or may be loosely translated , as , a
"loosening of the feet" .

She often walked around at home in India after a meal, in what is traditionally called "
Shatapavli" or hundred steps, supposed to aid greatly , in digestion. Her various trips had her routine well set. Travelling in planes did not hinder her walking. She was happy the planes were big, as she could do several trips, slowly walking around the place, as the crew rested after serving the meals. Airlines probably never realized this aspect of the big planes.

By and by, well into her walk, she passed by where M sat, and asked after her well being and whether she had had her meal. The lady dissolved in tears, saying they served her chicken , and said there were no vegetarian meals . Looking at the chicken made her nauseous, and so she sent it back
and had had nothing. Those booking her ticket had not worried about the meal preference. The trip had certainly begun on a bad note, and she had this corporate type sitting next to her who was relishing the chicken, which made her physically uncomfortable.

My mother was carrying her big purse with her ( she never left anything like that on her seat, appearances were deceptive, and you never knew your neighbor). She unzipped a compartment and whipped out a set of "laddoos " ( sweet ball- shaped concoctions made of whole wheat flour, dry fruits, cardamom, saffron, shortening, and jaggery) and passed them over to her.

"Try these" , she said, and explained the ingredients over the head of the startled corporate type, who was probably wishing he could have a piece too, but didn't dare ask. A look of disbelief in M's eyes, followed by a sudden filling of eyes.

"Did you ask them for milk ? A couple of these and a glass of milk should be like a meal." And seeing M's confused face, she took off towards the galley, to ask for a carton of milk for her young friend . The crew probably remembered their schooldays, once she got through with her request,simultaneously pulling them up, for what she thought was total thoughtlessness on their part.

When they got off mid-way to change flights, M kept close to my mother, and was almost in tears. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful, till they got off at San Francisco. And went through customs. My mother never tried to hide anything and she was carrying the rice, so she went through the appropriate customs channel. M accompanied her although she had nothing to declare as such.

The US customs were treated to a short spiel on the benefits of hand pound rice. They then asked about the silver plate she was carrying. I still haven't figured out why they would object to a silver plate.

But the sight of an old grandmother, slightly bent at the shoulders, tired after a
22 hour journey, explaining the baby grandson's first food sampling ceremony , with a maternal uncle dipping a gold ring in some delicious sweet stuff on the silver plate, and allowing the infant to lick it delightedly, probably updated the US customs knowledge of Indian customs......

The officer, slightly amazed, probably touched, and duly impressed, nodded and my mother walked out with her friend, both of them wreathed in smiles as they saw their respective sons , with families, waiting for them.

M couldn't stop praising my mother as she explained the happenings to her son. The business with the "laddoos" , and berating the airline staff for not offering milk to a meal-deprived lady, and what she described as the " brave" explanations to the US customs about various things.
She got all teary eyed, her emotions a confusing mix of saying goodbye to a motherly person, and relief at seeing her son after so many years. She quickly bent down and touched my mother's feet before leaving with her son. And my mother patted her back, promising to look her up during her stay.

There was a smile on the face of the tough looking African American police lady assigned to that area.

No one from my family was the least bit surprised. These kind of things were always happening with her.....

I am just glad that she never had to face travel in recent times, when all kinds of things are
barred and banned, and confiscated, due to security reasons.

With increasing variety in travel routes, and constant screening even in transit, I can only imagine the illuminating lectures that are being missed by customs and airline authorities in places like HongKong, Bangkok and Seoul.....

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Day in the life of ........

Those potholed roads lie flat in apathy,
As she lumbers across carrying the load,
Of humanity,

Revving up with a sneeze,

A delighted exhaust blast,
She siddles up to a busstop.

Tired faces at windows,

Nose on the bar,

watching the battle to enter,

The right to a Square Foot o
f Steel,
As other feet fight ,
umbrellas as weapons,
Dripping the pollution of the skies.

Some polite moves,
Some leching eyes,

Body contracting to one side,

She clutches her purse,
and the child holding on
to schoolbooks,
Wet behind the ears,

Shoes stepping on
her sandaled feet,
The toe ring hurts.

And the brown uniform,

taps his punch on the seat rod,

Calls out , and beckons....
"Sir, cant you see,

This is a ladies seat,
Ma'am, come forward..."
And she puts the child ahead,

squeezes against briefcases,
and limbs

Clutching her purse
Getting ahead.

A sudden pothole,

A surprise jerk,
They fall backwards,

They've lost their place,
but fall unhurt,

tumbling over a base,

Cushioned by the humanity
of Mumbai,
Packing the monsoon buses.

They dust themselves,
tucking in dishevelled thoughts,

Collect their bags

and Thoughts,
Clutching the rods once again

Ruffling the hair of a child,
Who stands again with his mother,
Facing another schoolday,
Another bus,
Another crowd,
Another rain....

The same life...........

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Yes, Ma'am.....

(Thats not me...)

Me and tags, is like me and the Mumbai Traffic Police; we keep out of each others way. For various reasons like the whistle.

But I tend to look back very fondly on my days as a student, 37 years ago, and cannot refuse , when someone like Sucharita, a Professor of English makes a request.

Four Places I’d Like to Go, or Things I’d Like to Do:

1. Visit the place in Kokan that my ancestors came from . I have a "Kulavruttanta" (family tree journal , listing, for a given last name, all branches), for my maiden name, and there is a place where my oldest known ancestor (8 generations before) has a memorial/samadhi. Apparently my parents took us there about 55 years ago.

2. Greece : The place fascinates me, and the Music of Zorba is always at the back of my mind. Just finished reading Greekayan in Marathi by Dr Meena Prabhu, and am even more interested now.

3. Australia : I read Lucy Walker books as a school girl, and have been dying to see the outback ever since. I now have friends from here who are there, as well as my blogging friends from Australia. Just waiting to win the lottery.

4. Don't know if this will ever happen, but I would love to be able to go and meet Barrack Obama. I like to hear him speak, and have read his books.

Four Places I Have Lived:

Pune : The place where I grew up, went to school and college, and still hark back to. It holds a lot of memories, and in all the wear and tear over the years, the place still stands tall in my mind.

Mumbai : Where I now live, and have done so for the last 35 years. It grows on you. With all the crowds, the useless weather, the noise and other things, the place has guts and spirit, mostly amidst the common middle class folk. That counts. And draws you.

Irvine, California : I went to graduate school here in 1970 and was there for 2 years. This was an amazing experience , including living with American roommates , some of who I still communicate with. Great memories, greater friends.

Karlsruhe, Germany : Our family spent a year here in 1991-92, when my husband was on a visiting academic assignment. It was a different experience now, going as a mother, dealing with kindergaarten and middle school issues, and picking up useful German and many many friends....

Four Places I Have Been on Vacation:

Darjeeling (West Bengal)

Four Food or Drinks I Have Liked:

Bhel : (Mouth watering , tear generating spicy snack mixture of puffed rice, onions, tomatoes, raw mango, savouries, and three types of chutneys/sauces. To be eaten on paper with thicker paper spoons.) From a specific roadside vendor stall in Pune. The current owner is the third generation running it, and i knew the grandfather. His technique remains unmatched

Sugarcane Juice : Still drawing crowds by the hoards. With a hint of lemon and ginger, totally unbeatable in Pune on a scorching summer afternoon. There are specific juice stalls I go to, and the quality is unchanged. Can drink any amount of these.

Iceberg Lettuce : My introduction to this was as a student in the University, and I simply loved the entire concept with dressings and stuff. To this day, I can make a meal out of it, when i get the stuff, that is. Friends and family visiting from the US have been known to arrive with a huge iceberg lettuce kept in an icebox.

Mango Pickle : Made fresh, in season, peeled raw mangoes, cut small, with a mustard and lemon mixture, that simply zings up your nose, and clears the sinuses. Ideally eaten with fresh Jowar Bhakri and white butter. (I know you are feeling jealous so I will stop....)

Four Books or Movies I could Read or Watch Again:

1. Little Women (Louissa M Alcott)

2. The movie Lagaan

3. Smritichitre (in Marathi) by Laxmibai Tilak.

4, The play ,"Varyavarchi Varaat" by late PU La Deshpande in Marathi.

Four Works of Art Before Which I’ve Stood (or Sat):

1. Rangoli portraits drawn during festivals

2. The Mona Lisa at the Louvre. If you move around it feels like the eyes follow you..:-)

3. The Sun Temple sculptures at Konarak

4. Pencil portraits of my parents done by my nephew when he was 8.

Four Figures From the Past Whom I’d Like to Watch at Work or Meet for Dinner:

1. Walt Disney while he came up with all his cartoon characters

2. Einstein

3. Rani of Jhansi

4. My mother's mother who passed away in my mother's childhood. That was one grandparent I never saw. This meeting would surely be great.

Four People I Think Might Take it Upon Themselves to Take Up This Meme:

Vivek Patwardhan



Subramanian Iyer

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Apology Gardens.....

Indian cricket captain, M. S. Dhoni, appeared on TV a few days ago, apologizing to the nation for losing the key T20 cricket match , the loss of which threw India out of contention for the Cup.

It doesn't take a genius to realize that this is just a game.
Winning and losing are part of it. We dont have a monopoly on the CUP. There are no reservations here. Dhoni's job was to do what he knows best. Play cricket. Its not his job to play political games vis-avis the press. Its not his job to investigate someone's triceps. And its not his job to question, when the powers that be practice selective blindness. Neither is it his job to give interviews. For that there are many professional politicians in the Board of Control for Cricket(BCCI) in India, who make it a point to fly in and out of countries for the matches.

As the captain of a team, that has been flogged , without rest, flying in and out of countries, playing various varieties of the game, with scanty disregard for time zones, rest periods, tapering-off-techniques in practice, he did his best . The BCCI and its assorted associated profit making set ups (read IPL), treat these guys like machines, that must deliver, so revenue earned from 'production' is maximized. And so, after apologizing, he and his team fly straight away to the West Indies for the one Day form of the game. I think the chairman of the BCCI should have apologized for the horrendous schedule.

Should Dhoni have apologized ? No. Sure, he could have analysed the game. But an apology was not asked for. And he was playing a game. He was not playing with people's lives.

I can think of several more people who should be up there, queueing up on TV to apologize.

However, anticipating vast numbers who might want to use this as a quick publicity stunt, and in keeping with my concern for the nation in the form of Temper Parks, I am hereby suggesting something new.

Apology Gardens. Much as it sounds like a hifi name for an new housing estate promoted by someone who thinks anything ending with-ogy is posh, this is actually a Green way to apologize.

These will be gardens built on
land that is reclaimed ; not from the ocean, but from goons who organize slums illegally on someone else's land. There will be an audience area with seating, like in amusement parks. There will be a replica of a village on the premises, complete with a dry well, empty water vessels, lean looking cattle, and women walking around carrying 4 pots on the head, containing nothing. Another part of the park will have small village schoolrooms, complete with missing fans, crumbling walls, collapsed ventilation, and zero plumbing. The teacher's table will have one leg missing, and the chair will be totally missing. There will be also something called Pothole Plaza in a part of the park. There will also be special MCC; nothing to do with the cricket body, Lords, Devils, or Dhoni, but actually standing for Municipal Contractors Conclave.

Some leading candidates anticipated at the Apology gardens..... .

The PM :

Nothing personal against any specific person, but the occupant of the moment needs to massively apologize. 60 years into our independence and there are still 15,000+ villages that do not have drinking water facilities. Women walk for miles through hilly areas searching for places where groundwater is available to be used, and they lug it back, several pots at a time, several miles everyday. Within 50-60 miles of a place like Pune , you can see places that have no electricity. When a locally known girl made it as a winner in a National Children's Marathi Music show, residents walked/travelled 40 miles to watch her on TV.

Every time goals are not met and work falls short , the PM should make a mandatory trip to the nearest Apology Park. Music consisting of owls hooting, crickets chirping in the night, and little children on their mothers hips crying for water, will play, as the person makes several rounds of the designated area, carrying four pots. He will stop at a well, and try and draw water through a rusted pulley set up. This will be done several times. There will be special theatre artists playing lazy husbands , sitting around , playing carrom, as their wives trudge around for water. The PM must pull them up , and crack the whip. He may be helped in all these acts, by his cabinet colleagues . A ringing applause from the public in the audience area will signify the apology is accepted.

The Central and State Ministers for Education/Human Resources Development.

The Central Minister, totally infatuated with India's emergence as an IT player, goes overboard sanctioning Institutes of Higher Education, without seeing if premises, laboratory and other facilities etc exist. Locations are based on who sucks up to the ruling party. The fact that today's IT players have emerged from old conservative reputed institutes that have come up through sheer hard work is completely overlooked. 60 years after Independence, there are still rural primary schools, where money allocations don't reach schools, roofs leak, there is no potable water for the students, and the school teacher is at the mercy of the local village head. Text books never reach students, and yet, year after year, the same Ministry does full page ads in newspapers, displaying photos of those in power, who matter , saying "Each One , Teach One"....

The State Minister, treats the portfolio as a fun thing. There hasn't been a year when students passing their boards have not been faced with changing admission rules for college. The Minister specializes in introducing sudden rule changes two days before admissions start. The Chief Minister, on his own, issues an opposing edict. Every year the State Technical (Engineering, Medical, Pharmacy and Architecture) admissions are challenged in court and someone obtains a stay order, delaying admissions. One of the State ministers, even troubled the poor 4th class students, saying they would need to pass increasing number of intermediate tests every semester. And doesn't matter if the textbooks weren't available.

These guys should be welcomed into the Apology Garden by hoards of parents and children singing Hum Honge Kamayaab (our version of "We shall overcome") , and led to the schoolroom set up. The ministers will sit at the school desks meant for small kindergaarten children and get a taste of what happens when older children are allotted these places for exams. A minimum period of one hour spent sitting cramped at these desks, faced with taps hissing air, and fans that do nothing with or without current, all the while writing out 100 repetitions of "I will improve primary education facilities with immediate effect", will take them back to their schooldays , not to mention the trauma manifesting itself in their arthritic knees. A maximum sitting time of 3 hours is suggested to give them a taste of what the poor students face during exams. When someone walks out, bent and holding his back, apoplectic and speechless with anger, the apology will be considered as accepted.

And finally Welcome to the Pothole Plaza.

The Mumbai Municipal Commissioner, the Chief Minister, and Telephone Company Chief.

Amidst laughable and shameless declarations of converting Mumbai into Shanghai , the above three would be next in line for entry into the Apology gardens. It is suggested that a set of bulldozers escort them to the Pothole Plaza, with the aforementioned digintaries sitting in the digging limbs of the machine, for maximum visbility. While the audience watches, they will be given one of those road drills to mess up a sample road. The Pothole Plaza will have several permanently designed giant potholes. The 3 guys will be made to sit in the sort of cars you see in amusement parks , that bang into each other.

As soon as they assume expressions of honest regret (difficult, but not impossible), the cars will automatically start and proceed in Brownian motion through all the potholes, banging into each other at varying speeds. During a break, the MCC, will employ chaps to fill the potholes with substandard cement and water, so that once the cars start again, the occupants may get the benefit of huge blobs of dirt water, similar to what ordinary mortals in Mumbai get at bus stops in the monsoon. It is expected that these municipal leaders, sit in the cars with folded hands addressed to the audience, as a measure of their apology.

One suspects that such events may actually yield more results, than those achieved by filing
public interest litigations, in courts , already highly overburdened with cases. Publicity crazy officials will think several times before giving random interviews. There will be lesser numbers of people rushing to Delhi for Ministerships , knowing what happens if they don't perform.

You might ask who funds these parks.

I really don't know.

Just like I don't know, how, in one of our poorest states, the chief minister is able to get newer and newer state planes for personal use.

Just like I don't know how in a country with a President, Power behind the Throne, Deputy Opposition leader, and Speaker of Parliament, all women, they still can't get the Women's Reservation Bill to pass, and send it back for "review".

Just like I don't know, why so much funding is easily available for the trial of a terrorist, who was clearly seen in action against the country, killing and maiming innocent citizens, a shameless convict ,who smiles at the judge; but a quota exists for granting bravery medals at the highest level, to those who paid with their lives, and the government cannot bring itself to create an exception to the rule, that the number of medals is fixed....

Monday, June 15, 2009

Mehndi Matters

We are supposed to travel out of Mumbai , shortly for a family wedding.

While, the possibility of having to miss classes, being permitted to make them up later, travel reservations , the mode of travel, allowed luggage restrictions and similar stuff, should be items to make you worry and lose sleep for sometime,
it will probably surprise no one now to hear, that the key question happens to be whether, we are reaching in time for time Mehndi function....

Mehndi (Henna Patterns) on a bride's limbs is a very traditional thing , that's been followed , not only in India, but parts of the Middle East and even Africa. In certain parts of India, it has more importance as an event, and, it more or less functions as a Ladies Evening , where there are Henna artists who sit and painstakingly draw artistic patterns on every arm stretched in front of them; the future mother-in-law, putting the symbolic first Mehndi touch , for the daughter-in-law-to-be, is an indulgently observed ritual, and there is a lot of good food, and music and dancing.

When I was a child, in my own community, Mehndi was not such a wildly celebrated event, . Yes, there would be some expert ladies amongst the relatives who excelled in the art, and they would take great pride in sitting with the bride and doing the designs on the hands and arms. Many times, in many households, this design, really, was a big filled circle in the middle of the palm, and then the colored fingertips. Mehndi by itself, was a very dark green paste made from Mehndi leaves , sometimes enhanced with a dollop of tea, and the technique of doing designs was achieved by using something like an icing cone to squeeze the Mehndi.

As little girls, there was this great excitement about sleeping with Mehndi applied hands. The paste had to stay undisturbed on your hands and dry completely, for the orange designs to manifest themselves. Someone would come around with a glass of lemon juice , guaranteed to brighten the end result, and we would put some of that on an actually drying Mehndi design. Weddings often meant a gaggle of cousins sleeping together in a huge room on mattresses laid out on the floor, and in all the excitement, unavoidable sleep, and shoving , pushing and turning in your sleep , it was not uncommon for some folks to wake up with a complete mess of a design. For people like the bride, she sat with both her hands held out, ladies painstakingly doing designs there; assorted cousins and aunts appeared regularly with plates of delicious stuff, and fed spoon fulls to the bride, who wouldn't be able to use her hands for some time now.

In my childhood, I don't remember there being any Mehndi ceremonies as such , with entire evenings dedicated to them. But North India, has this custom, and thanks to the early breezes of globalization, this custom has now been adopted happily by many people in India. Today, there are heavily-in-demand Mehndi artists, who actually take reservations for this work. The bride actually gets special clothes stitched with special jewellery for this occasion. Special video photographers are contracted to film all this, and the video often opens with a shot of both the palms held open, with a beautiful Mehndi design showing, and then the camera slowly shows who the hands belong to.

But there are also some non wedding Mehndi memories.

A 7 year old nephew was having a "thread ceremony" (similar in concept to the Jewish Bar Mitzvah, or Zorastrian Navjote). Some Mehndi artists were supposed to come and do the hands of the family ladies. The young chap, himself a good artist was intrigued. He wanted some Mehndi designs too. But as someone who was crazy about elephants , he wanted an elephant on each palm. The artists obliged . The next day, when the video chaps came, I requested them to do an opening shot of a little pair of hands opening up to show two great Mehndi elephants. They were a bit shocked at first; they had never done these kind of Mehndi shots for thread ceremonies. The final video had a typical Mehndi palm opening sequence, with the camera slowly moving up, to show a young fellow, thrilled to bits, grinning away , displaying a bunch of missing teeth...

Away from weddings, if you visit the Hanuman temple in the heart of New Delhi, there is a wide open space where there are several rural Mehndi artist ladies, who will do a design either on one hand or both, for a fixed fee. This is actually a tourist attraction, and the facility is always crowded.

About 17 years ago, on a trip to New Delhi and places up North, we visited this place in Delhi a day before we returned to Mumbai. My daughter, then a little girl, was absolutely smitten with a complicated peacock design, and insisted on getting it done.
Amazingly, I have never seen her sit so still since then.

The artist did a wonderful job, and told her how to hold her hands in front, all the way home, so that the design would dry properly without messing the design.
We hailed a 3 wheeler to go back, and the first problem, was getting into the vehicle, as now she couldn't clutch the rod to climb in. Fortunately, her brother who was in an indulgent frame of mind then, lifted her and put her inside, and we followed. About 20 minutes of holding the hands into the breeze ( she thought it would dry faster), and we reached our place.

Turns out, that weddings, Mehndi, trips and several other things, bow low in the face of natural processes.

I noticed my daughter shuffling from one foot to another. Then she kind of advanced to on-the-spot-jogging. She looked at me, beseechingly, hands still held out in front.

"I need to go. Really bad. But how do I unfasten the jeans ? Yikes. Help !" And so there we were. Both of us crowded into a small bathroom. I helped her unfasten and further. . Some time later, repeated the process in reverse. Emerged back in the room, where her brother gave her a very disgusted look.

She had already forgotten. She was busy sitting and admiring her designs on her hand. And probably wondering what she was going to do about dinner, and who would be feeding her...

Back to the present.

The same little girl, now an adult, is ecstatic that she will be making it in time for the Mehndi ceremony of this wedding. New outfits and matching jewellery have been acquired. And you can't wear those without silver coated footwear.

The search is on.

But before that , the Mehndi designs on the ankle ......

Sometimes, I wonder whose wedding it is.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Climbing minds

It stands
Erect at the peak
supreme in its simplicity,
Holding out its arms
in welcome
A refuge from a troubled world,
A troubled mind.

The paths are many,
Through dappled meadows,
Arched palms,
And dark woods.
But the two climbers,
see different things,
In the evening gloom.

He, of the mind full-of-worms,
Striding across creeping plants,
Snapping branches like
One day he would his mind,
Hitting his stick on the stones
pretending it was her,
Ensuring that she would get lost,
And he rushed ahead,
Missing the path to the peak

She could barely stand,
Trembling with more than fear,
She dissolved onto the floor,
And tapped around for support;
A small clearing with trembling hands,
shows a covered step,
So a bit closer to the top,
Somewhere, a lopsided smile,
The trees are charmed,
The branches bend to escort
As she struggles across the
clearing steps,
A short breath,
she spies a bud

Face up to the sun,
waiting for a new day,
On its own.

The slow trudge to he top,
Limbs tired , so too the mind,
But the mixups in the brain
have cleared, like the air
after the first monsoon rain.....

Nature has its own court,
For offenders of the mind,
They are lost in the woods
Worms all over their mind,
Parasite is as parasite does.

Excruciatingly tired,
She sighs as the house nears,
A door swings open,
Friendly faces at the window,
beckoning her to a new life,
Where a troubled mind
Is patted asleep,
Comfortably fed,
And she nods off,
To wake up to a new day,
Amidst her new friends
The mind in smiles.....

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Its all relative .....

One of the beauties of nomenclature of "relationships", in languages , in India, and specifically my language, Marathi, is the way we have different names for different relatives, who may possibly be the same seniority level, vis-a-vis, say, you, but, have these little culturally ordained tick marks hinting at intrinsic superiority, preordained closeness, respectfulness-at-a-distance, and so on.

What is again intriguing, and something we have always taken for granted , is, how we use these names to interact and relate with people absolutely
unrelated, and even unknown to us. Every child in India, automatically picks up the tradition of calling and addressing completely unknown folks, older to him/her, as an aunt/uncle etc, in a particular way. When I went to the US in 1969 for graduate school, my first trip outside my country, ever, I was absolutely aghast at little children addressing grown ladies as Mrs so-and-so, and whats more, the Mrs treating it as a perfectly normal thing to say ....

My earliest introduction to this was when, as a elementary school kid, I called a neighbor lady as Mrs so-and-so, while announcing her unexpected arrival at the door to my mother, and earned myself a maternal glare
of the worst category. Calling someone your mother's age as Mrs so-an-so, to her face was a complete no-no. You had to always refer to such ladies as "aunties". eg. Sucharita aunty.

Within this auntification
, there was a fine distinction between names like "Mavshi" (mother's sister), "Kaku" (father's brother's wife). I have always wondered why no one was ever called by the name "Atya" (father's sister). You could always take more liberties with a Mavshi than a Kaku. Mavshis' emanated an aura of informality, whereas with Kaku's you had to mind your P's and Q's.

Older males, your father's age, were always, invariably addressed as
"Kaka" or Uncle (father's brother). "Mama" was the word to denote mother's brother, but you really didn't go around calling visiting older males, Mama. This nomenclature was fiercely guarded by actual Mamas, who were your actual place of refuge during school summer holidays and so on.

If you met some one's
grandmother, or someone who looked like a grandma, you addressed her as "Aji", regardless of whether you associated her from the maternal or paternal side. The older the relations , the more you ignored the path, and concentrated on the relation . An elderly gentleman was always referred to as "Ajoba" or grandfather, regardless of whether he was one. He could be a confirmed bachelor at the age of 86 and you still called him an "Ajoba".

As we grew up, we learnt the nuances of addressing people in our own generation. Your brother's wife was always referred to and even addressed as "Vahini" . While amidst actual relatives your attitude depended on whether the Vahini was of a respectful age or backslapping age, you always addressed lesser known wives of better known unrelated fellows, as Vahini. I distinctly remember playing a badminton mixed doubles game with my husband as partner, sometime in the late 70's, and our opponent yelling out "Great shot, Vahini !". Even then, in the days when wearing short skirts while playing was not given a second look, this guy calling out to me as Vahini, was actually considered archaic and entertaining, by modern types. But the Vahini in me was appreciative and thrilled.

It is pertinent to note that I did not know this guy but had seen him on the courts, and nobody thought anything odd about this exclamation.

While I have been through the stages of being addressed as "
Bal" (Child), "Tai"(elder sister, by assorted neighborhood younger girls)," Mavshi"(aunt), " Kaku"(aunt), " Bai" (lady) , what has been eyeopening , is my ascent to an even higher level.

I was recently in the market, sifting through a heap of Alphonso mangoes, smelling and selecting specific ones to buy, and the vendor, slightly new to our area, called out ,
"Aji (Grandmother) ! if you select all the mangoes with so much checking, what will the others get ?" ...."... A part of me felt like I was graduating :-), and another part of me unconsciously raised my hand to push back those strands of grey that were wasting their time at the temple and the neck....

But the final straw,
which was like getting an honorary degree, was something that happened a few years ago when I was still working. I have lived on the campus of this Institute for more than 30 years, and I have seen an entire generation of children grow from being kindergarten kids, walking to school holding their mothers hand, to lanky chaps in corduroys, , in their twenties, walking to the gate to catch transport for their place of work.

I was out in the office corridor, checking up the notice board about some events and lectures, when I felt a shadow loom . I looked up, and saw someone who I knew from fifteen years earlier as a schoolboy in half pants, now suddenly all grown up , with a tie and a jacket,
but with the same look on his face.

"Aunty ! Seeing you after so many years !", and he went nineteen to the dozen about my family, and our common neighbors, who he was in touch with and so on. Turned out that he was in our department for a faculty interview, having just completed his doctorate from one of US's outstanding Universities. After getting complete updates on his family, who was where, who got married, who had children, etc I wished him well. We left.

A month later, I was in the office , checking my mail in the mailbox , when I heard a breezy
"Hi Aunty!" , and suddenly, about 16-20 pair of eyes settled on me, some with imperceptibly raised eyebrows. While Sir and Ma'am, were the order of the day, and times had surely changed, faculty members calling another employee 'Aunty' , and that too, in a ringing voice, was just considered a bit much.

I actually reveled in every one's confusion and discomfiture. With a noticeable left brain predominance around me, this little right brained interjection was in the fitness of things, according to me, in the interests of everyone remaining in balance. ....

He had successfully done his interviews and got selected as a faculty member. He was in the office to complete some remaining formalities.

A few years later, I opted for retirement due to some other reasons, but throughout the time that this guy was there, he always addressed me as Aunty
. Loudly and clearly.

And I always responded.
Like an Aunty.

Between all the Aunty
, Tai, Vahini, Bai, and Aji, being the Aunty of a Faculty member in one of India's premier engineering Institute was an unmatched honor...

P. S. My daughter , who is aware of some of my blogging friends outside India, and sometimes condescends to read this blog , (when she is not busy doing her hair etc), is having a great time laughing about Lilly Mavshi, June Aji, and Darlene Aji. Ladies, welcome to India...:-)