Friday, October 30, 2009

In praise of Mumbai's finest, again .....

Edited to add : (featured on Blogbharti, Nov 2, 2009)

She is a doctor and was enjoying the last few days of her leave. She decided to do some errands in Thane ( a city on the outskirts of Mumbai, almost like a suburb), that she had been putting off for sometime. Shops and offices would be nicely operational by 11 am, after the festival vacations, and she put off her departure from home, by 15 minutes, thinking she could catch a later suburban train to Thane. Thane was a big terminus, and there was a choice of trains from there to other terminii, in the city, where she wished to go , once her work was done.

That was probably the best decision she could have taken.

It was about 4 stations away to Thane , from the suburban station closest to her. The morning rush hour was kind of settling down, and she didn't really worry , as the train came to a stop, in between stations. Just a station away from Thane. Trains routinely do this waiting for the track to clear, so no one was worried. And they waited for the typical jerk that signaled a slow start again.

But it never came. Instead, there was a sudden power outage. The fans whirring in the compartment, (the only solace on a hot October sunny morning, devoid of running-train-breezes that are typical of our open door trains), also rattled to a stop.

Ten minutes later , there was still no change. She was travelling in the ladies' compartment , and a few ladies started peering out of the door to find out what the problem was. She too, moved around and tried to check out what was happening.

What they saw , were lines and lines of stalled suburban and mainline trains. A sea of people, all walking down between tracks, and some on the tracks, all trying to make it to their destination on foot. Some had exams, some would lose a days wage if they reached late, some were desperate to reach home after a night shift, and some were even carrying tiffins, for supplying lunch somewhere. There were families with children, folks out to attend a marriage, all dressed up, kids returning from sports practice with cricket kits , and several hawkers who are a permanent fixture on these trains.

It turned out , that the train previous to hers, had just been in a horrendous accident. Just before Thane, there was a bridge being reinforced, and a huge slab of it just collapsed, on a water pipe below, which also crashed and collapsed. On the front few compartments of the train.

Electric cables above were yanked out and exposed suddenly and the water gushing out from the pipes with the live cables made it a nightmare. The guard traveling in the rear of the train, rushed out to see the reason for the sudden jerk and deafening noise, realised the danger of electrocution, and immediately ran out along the opposite track , his red flag altering the approaching other trains, and relayed the message of cutting of power to the closest station.

That was the moment the power went off in her train, and it probably saved thousands of lives in the train that faced the crash.

The water from the pipes, found a preferred path on the lower levels of the track area, and there was a growing river of water developing amidst the railway tracks. The people walking along the tracks, kept shouting out and telling snippets of stuff. Her train was on a banking, the compartment was at a slightly more elevated level compared to the ground, and there was an uneven incline , when they looked down. Several ladies started talking about getting off and walking, and some of the younger teenager types jumped out.

Suddenly a few people appeared at their compartment door below. They were people from their own train, and had noticed their plight. Ladies in a panic started crowding the door. She was pushed to one side, as she looked down at a seven-to-eight feet drop on a pebbled stony incline. Old ladies, middle aged matrons, ladies with small babies, pregnant ladies, every category was represented.

"Ma'am, the train isn't going to start soon. There is a huge problem ahead and lots of debris. Its better if you get off and try and reach home in daylight. " . That was an office-going type, who probably saw his wife and mother somewhere in his mind.

An elderly Gujarati lady in a white saree, shook her head.

"Son, its been ages since I did such big jumps. I'll probably break my knee. I'll wait. " And she kind of looked him, resigned to her fate.

Another lady, with a small child, passed the baby down to one of the men, who handed it to another, to hold. Then she poised herself at the crowded door. A bunch of fellows grouped together, to buffer her jump, and held out hands.

"Ma'am, jump. You wont fall. We're here. We'll catch you. Just let yourself go. Sit and slide off..." Some more fellows had landed up. One of them climbed on another to guide the ladies at the side of the door, through the drop, so to speak.

The lady with the child made the jump. She had to. Her child was crying for her , and the stranger holding it didn't have a clue.

The jump would never be classed a winner, say, as a graceful-jump-in-a-saree-holding-bags-and-a-purse went. But it would win a gold medal for guts. Soon the other ladies felt encouraged. Some more young fellows from other compartments of the train joined in to help.

The elderly Gujarati lady decided to take the risk. It must be God's wish that she reach her destination safely and in daylight. The fellows sounded helpful, many ladies had jumped, and were urging her to come down.

She stood at the door, then slid down to sit, hands clutching the central rod very tight. She looked up, took a deep breath, muttered something (God's name, 100%), and looked down at the fellows .

"Aji(=grandma) , just let go of your hands. We'll catch you. Not to worry. Jai Bajrang Bali !"

And hearing that invocation to God, Aji jumped. Straight into network of helpful hands. She took a while to get her bearings. Sat on to one side on the banking. Took off her glasses. Wiped her sweaty face with the edge of her saree pallu, covered her head with it, looked up at the Almighty, and took several deep breaths with eyes closed. Thanks over, she slowly got up, to come by, pat some of the fellows on their backs, and stood there encouraging assorted people to jump down.

The doctor did. Just before the pregnant lady . She got up as soon as they helped her, and stood by to give courage to the pregnant lady, advising her how to safely manoeuvre the jump. Word had gone around that she was a doc, and the lady presumably felt a bit safer about having her supervise the jump. But she needn't have worried.

More fellows were joining in. Some were guiding the ladies out of the compartment. Some were instructing them on the track to follow on foot to the nearest exit on to the city road outside. There was a biggish gap at one place , with a fast flowing stream way below. The fellows could leap across. The women and elderly could not do so easily, and without fear. Some young fellows soon acquired a iron/concrete broken slab from somewhere,and placed it across the gap. Two guys stood on either side, hands outstretched and helped the ladies across.

It was a long walk home. The demand and supply for three wheelers had gotten skewed. Vehicles were running full. Buses were overflowing. The train accident had blocked one of the major routes on the suburban rail network. The minute word got around, commuters from several stations poured out on to the road and crowded the buses and 3 wheelers.

She spied a milk booth nearby, and wondering how long the walking would be, decided to have a cooling spiced milk drink before continuing. The Gujarati grandma agreed. Various folks from their compartment were slowly dispersing in various directions. She walked for half an hour before a three wheeler agreed to take her home in a round about route.

Why am I posting this ?

Because it was Mumbai's finest at work. I am tempted to use the word "spirit", but ever since politicians used it to justify their own non performance, it raises hackles.

Because at the end of the day, no one who went through all this even knew the names of who helped them. People simply volunteered on their own, and arrived, uncalled. Performed to their best, and then dissolved away amidst the stranded trains and tracks.

I think Mumbai has a fine tradition of helping. It's ordinary citizens, shine through trying episodes. Help pours forth from everyone. There is a sense of trust that pervades at such times. You don't know anyone, but you are all in it together.

All the unknown people who stood at the ladies compartment exit, helping the women and saving them from a rough hurtful jump, were aware that they were helping a human being in need and it was incidental that they were ladies. There was nor a single complaint from anyone about someone taking advantage of the occasion to make inappropriate contact. When they found that a lady was ok and could manage on her own , they immediately got busy helping someone else, urging them to jump, be careful walking the tracks, and cross makeshift bridging planks and so on.

There cannot be a finer example, of how folks of Mumbai, put their hand up and get counted in the most trying circumstances, and then disappear to get back to their difficult jobs, where they probably lose a days wage because they came late.

A friend recently posted about the apathy of society, and the concept of bystanders. The sociological observations , and so on. Some of the episodes he describes are shocking.

Notwithstanding the conclusions of sociological experts, this is the second time one has seen the "Mumbai's finest" in in action.

Earlier, my personal experience about Mumbai's finest, was posted here.......

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Thinking out of the b-b-b-box......! (week)

Actually, I have always wondered who declares the various weeks, months and days that we celebrate. And I have decided to just announce my own.

It isn't always that two blogging friends ,
Manju and I, repost on the same topic. In honor of this , I think it is fitting to declare this as the "Thinking-out-of-the-box Week", a unique week beginning on a Thursday.

All our blogging friends welcome to string their pearls of wisdom....

Management gurus chortling with glee seeing everyone and every one's friend talking about "thinking out of the box" , obviously never thought of two things .

1. Which box, and of what size.

2. Who is in the box ad who is doing the thinking.

3. How the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority, hitherto referred to as MMRDA, would excel at using this concept in unusual ways.

Living in IIT Powai, it's almost like living in a park.

That is, if you forget, having to dodge , disdainfully sneezing cows and bulls, who break into a Pavlovian Gallop in reaction to a two wheeler loudly changing gears in their vicinity, or, monkey families, in defiance of "hum do hamare do" , blithely scampering across trees and building gates, with a greedy eye on a bag of groceries being carried by a stupid human. Pythons and snakes are passe, and these days they spend more time avoiding Indica's and Honda's that seem to have invaded the campus

The main arterial road outside IIT, that connects west to he east is being "redeveloped" and one of the first things they did was to immediately raze to the ground the various convenience shops across the road, in the interests of road widening. The MMRDA, while regretting the "inconvenience", likes to put up boards saying "Please bare with us" with a fine disregard for spelling, and a great tendency for pun, or maybe they think its fun.

I am convinced that the MMRDA , in cahoots with the BMC, has a secret agenda. It is called "thinking out of the box".

The only difference is that those in the box and those thinking are different entities.

The idea is to teach the pedestrians a lesson. They need to "know their place". And how dare they appear on the windscreen of a great man , simultaneously on the wheel and his cell phone, shivering in the air conditioned interiors of his gas guzzling contraption with tinted windows ?

The road belongs to wheels, and NOT to legs.

Why else would they dig "boxes" in the rubble, about 5 feet deep, big enough to hold a person like me, and position them , so close to the road edge, that speeding motorcycles force pedestrians into them? Believe me, slipping into such a "box" while carrying a big watermelon and 2 kg of tomatoes , is not something you wish ,even for your worst enemy.

These "boxes" have been dug every ten feet or so. No sharp edges on the box , but a smooth and fine slide into the nether world is ensured, as you step aside in a hurry to avoid an onslaught of six motorcycles, who have a fetish for overtaking from the left. Helmets are supposed to be for safety. Actually, they are for hiding the drivers face, so you cannot remember them when you complain to the police. One less case to handle. Load reduction for the police. More time for imposing fines. A win-win situation for everyone, except me.

I am sitting in the box, and they think outside it.......:-)

Time was when traffic signals outside schools had some importance. Children, accompanied by retired grandparents and parents crossed the road in large numbers at given times.

That was when the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Mumbai Police decided to "think out of the box". All the boxes for trespassing pedestrians were already dug. And something was needed to bring about improvement in the track and field situation of the country.

So they fixed it so that the pedestrian crossing light would remain on, precisely for seven seconds.

Other countries have the motto of "catch them young". We catch them even old. And so, every morning , you see a gaggle of kindergaarten and primary kids, being escorted by retired grandparents, trying to sprint across a wide expanse of potholed road, trying to adjust school bags, lunch boxes, sun hats and water bottles.

The SAI needs to be applauded for thinking out of the box, in an effort at introducing sprintingand hurdles training for school children. It also reduces the number of potholes the BMC needs to fill, since we need to have natural hurdles. The Mumbai Police have obliged with creative road dividers, all in concrete.

And woe betide anyone who is being taken in an ambulance , anywhere. You need to get in line, even to die.

Maybe, if the road dividers were temporary , they could be shifted, to allow discretionary priority travel for the ambulance. But that is more work for the already burdened police. So you "think out of the box" when BMC suggests concrete road-dividers, and keep silent.

So many folks benefit. The police, the BMC, and the contractor they choose who will magically reappear a few months later to break down the same road divider, as some one with a secret agenda, a not so secret Z-class security, blaring sirens, red lights and open ambitions needs to pass by in a hurry......

There is, on this main arterial road, a Gurudwara, a Masjid and a Mandir. No amount of boxes and thinking out of them appears to have lead to a solution regarding their relocation. They stand in solitary isolation amongst ruins of their old neighbouring shops. No one DARES think about them , either out of the box, or inside it. A box implies boundary conditions. And here , there are no boundary conditions. Just conditions.

In the meanwhile, I have emerged, bloody but unbowed, watermelons, tomatoes and all, from the BOX, after thinking inside the box, about life outside the box.

I have bought a whistle. Rs 8/- only. It's readily accessible in an open compartment of my purse.

When in danger of being relegated to inside the box, the sheer moving pedestrian population allows me to freely give a piercing whistle that temporarily brings the traffic near me to a confused stop. Some startled glances (others), some shrugging of shoulders(mine), and we get to avoid the MMRDA boxes and move on.

Crossing the road is even better. Crowds have never been so welcome before. As you shuffle across with the masses, you take a fake, troubled look in the opposite direction from the police, and blow the whistle . People walking along don't bother you. One police thinks the other has blown the whistle for some purpose. By the time he figures it was a non police whistle, you get your additional ten seconds right there.

I have just decided. While I don't like the BOX, I will stick to the THINKNG outside the BOX.

And I am grateful to MMRDA, BMC, SAI and our own
Police for introducing me to the two.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mind over in-laws ......

There is a violence which is often very physical. The impact is very visible, elicits immediate reaction from those who witness the aftermath, and if the subject is lucky, she gets help from those around.

Then there is violence, which violates the mind like no other. A constant chipping away , a hammering of the psyche, a chiselling away of confidence, a crushing of emotions to pulp, taking a toll of some great patience shown by a immensely tolerant woman, struggling with her situation in life, all the while keeping up apperances...

October is supposed to be domestic violence awareness month.

R was a classmate in college. A very friendly, sporty person, we were both part of some daily practice sessions for intercollegiate sports. Those were the late 60's, in one of Pune's moderately progressive colleges (then), when we played in appropriate gear (divided skirts), went "Ahhhhh!" at those daring to play in short pants, but outside the courts, moved around in voluminous skirts draped over the short sports gear. Our parents encouraged our sports, were very proud of us, and we kind of fit in with the prevailing norms, without being, say, revolutionary in attitudes and so on....

Somewhere in the last year , our graduation subjects diverged, and a year later we moved to different towns, because our families were in different towns. Her parents (like mine), were very easygoing, progressive, education-aware folks, who gave their children maximum opportunities in learning , regardless of their sex. R herself excelled both at her chosen subject as well as her sport.

I heard about her getting married, going to the US , and being fairly happy with life. She herself did a few courses, while her husband did research, and we were briefly in touch, when I was in grad school in the US. The next thing I heard was that they had suddenly wrapped up everything and gone back to India. His parents lived in Mumbai, in one of the nicer part of town. The story went that they worried him with their health concerns, and frightened him into a premature return. He soon got a job in a prestigious institute up north, they were looking for people in R's field too, and she too got a job offer.

Some parents often cannot accept the fact that their son has his own life. And he , unable to counter their demands, kept making frequent trips to Mumbai, at the drop of a hat, whenever they raised the health bogie. R made the best of what was on offer, immersing herself in her job, managing their social life, and frequent absences , when one day, the husband unilaterally decided to return to Mumbai.
Without any thought of what happens to his wife , and her job, something that was an economic necessity at that time. She , in time, resigned, despite pleas to stay on, lure of promotion and so on, and singlehandedly packed stuff and moved back to Mumbai.

Subsequently , her life was made hell by a set of parents, who found fault with everything she did, including simple things like "tadka" for vegetables, why she cooked what she did, why she cleaned the living room, why did she pull the curtains so, why did she talk and invite the neighbors during a festival, and innumerable other more serious things. They accused her of not caring for her husband, when in reality you could see the opposite was true. She was verbally constantly humiliated, in front of outsiders and relatives, the husband,
the ever faithful son, kept mum, and one fine day, she declared that she couldn't stay there any longer and returned to her parents, who welcomed her back.

(I often suspected there were other reasons. But the source of everything was the parents in law)

It was doing this period that I met her again, as both our parents had settled in the same town. She had gone back to our college, and met her old department head. She was a star student earlier, and they were only too thrilled to have her join as faculty now.
A lot of her husband's relatives stayed in town, and she never cut off her acquaintance with them, because as she said, she had no fight with them . A lot of aunts in law and senior uncle types, advised her husband to take a stand vis a vis his parents.

But a lifetime of cowering under parents who played with your mind, made him gutless.

She would entertain his relatives and attend family functions at their places . The husband cut off all contact and even stopped visiting his own relatives as a result.

I asked her once , why she didn't separate, and look for a new life . And was completely amazed to hear her say, that she had no wish to be married to anyone else ! Her parents were exemplary in her support, and let her be, happy as she was, with her professional life, her ability to remain cordial with her husband's extended relatives, and the original family cocoon.

After a lifetime of keeping the fellow on tenterhooks with their health problems, sometimes even insinuating terminal health situations, his parents had things under what they thought, was control. Their mobility was reduced, attention wavered, and the son, himself now approaching middle age, probably felt the first stirring of a limited revolt.....

Many years later, her husband initiated the first move.
Said he wanted to see her. She was a bit guarded, but said "fine", welcomed it and her parents honored her wishes. He just started visiting occasionally, then a bit more frequently. It was not known what his parents thought of this, whether they knew he was in contact, and she really didn't care to find out. He met her friends at work, and enjoyed their company. This time she wasn't going to move anywhere and stayed put. Her colleagues at work who knew her as a student stood firm behind her. In time, he actually started leading two lives. It is not known what his parents felt.

By and by they found that she was with child, and the couple was delighted. A strange situation. His visits increased in frequency. No word from his folks. His other relatives continued to fuss over her, and came visiting in hospital and attended the naming. His parents did not acknowledge the existence if a grandchild.

She continued living apart with the child, and holding on to her job. Her parents were old now, her siblings were married and had moved. The child was a ray of light in the eyes of the maternal grandparents.

I once asked her mother how they could see this kind of life for their daughter and why they didn't advise her to start afresh earlier.

You know, when an edifice shows cracks, you first work at filling them. If that doesn't work, you start thinking of how to support the structure with minimum trouble for those who live inside. So we are the support structure, and the putty that fills cracks. And we keep an eye out for the remaining parts of the edifice too. Hopefully, it should not need a destruction of the edifice to begin a new structure, because the old one has "life"...." , she explained , "but should a dismantling be necessary , we will be the backbone of support...."

Many years later, the in laws had finally passed away, and the house in Mumbai was empty. The child was in middle school by now, and reasonably attached to her father. R moved with family to Mumbai, to the same house that she had walked out of. If there was a
vaastupurush in that house, he must have breathed a sigh of relief. She took early retirement, as her husband had a Mumbai job, and the child went to one of the better schools, and was an outstanding student. The trauma of earlier being a child with a missing father figure was minimised by the occasional visits and the presence of grandpa, uncles, and others who doted on her .

It's not as if R doesn't hurt. There is a huge amount of scar tissue. She has been subject to sharp, relentless, insensitive, chipping away over a long period of time. Not allowing her to be hurt free for any big length of time. She is probably permanently scarred somewhere in her mind, but is able to brush it away, and get on with life.

But this has been a domestic violence case of the thoughtless,quiet type. A raging storm in a mind. The insecurities playing on the spouse and his mind. Her immense effort at adjustment. Her initial resolute deafness in the face of disgusting comments from the parents in law. A shameless , gutless , blind, husband. A constant adjustment to situations as they played out, randomly, in keeping with the senseless thinking of folks lacking any empathy. A mountain of tolerance till the hurt overflowed, unbarred on the other side, flooding the mind.

Her story had a happy ending, but took away the
best years of her life and her child's early life. Today she lives, her self respect intact, part of a family , happy together once again. Hopefully the spouse has learnt. He took his time. Played the nail while his parents hammered it into her on the head. Hope he knows how lucky he is today. To have someone like her, back. I don't know many people like her.

But one wonders, what kind of parents brought up a son, who would go selectively blind and deaf where his wife was concerned ? What kind of parents treated a daughter-in-law is such a terrible way ? Was the son, a grown man, superbly educated and capable of fathering a child, so influenced by his mother ? Or was his father the dictating type ? Had this kind of event happened earlier in the family history ? Is this a mental malady ?

And should we conclude, that education in our lives in meaningless unless accompanied by an open, encouraging , family upbringing, which really is the key to this problem, of why women undergo such mental trauma ?

Is a woman responsible for another woman's woes ?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spitting in the time of Filming.....

I was thinking about spitting. Before some jaws that have dropped in disgust permanently stay that way, I must clarify, that I wasn't going to spit myself . But someone I know, P, who is learning video editing, needed to make a short film on Spitting/Tobacco spitting, and asked me to help find someone to capture on film and help with it.

spitters in Mumbai can be found everywhere, its not something they announce and do. I have dodged stuff on the ground, stepped across and over splashes of tobacco red on staircases, and once fervently thanked the Lord when someone in a bus, managed some projectile spitting, 5 seconds before I passed through there on a two wheeler. I mean, there had to be a hand of Providence, in the fact that nothing fell on me, given the fact that me, the bus, and the spit had their own velocity, and no one was a whiz at calculating projectile motion.

At this point , it is relevant to point out that spitting has never been the monopoly of , say, folks in the lower economic strata, as may be commonly thought.

We have rural, portly, landed gentry, that don't work for a living, but seem to think that chewing tobacco and spitting does something for their image. Their ability to chew, chew, talk, and then turn sideways towards a spittoon , and generate a projectile of stuff is supposed to be a display of power, amidst a society, where education is deliberately absent, and certain gestures indicate certain things. It also gives you a chance to look disdainfully at your opponent, and spit at him at any given time. The public notices, cringes, votes and then stays quiet, out of your path.

Then we have people who have migrated from rural backgrounds, where chewing tobacco along with a group of friends, after a hard day in the fields, is a kind of social activity, now brought over and established in an urban milieu. Today, fields are no longer an attractive proposition, and the vast amount of labour migrants coming into Mumbai for construction activities, think of this as a accepted mean between the extremes of being a drunk and drug-user, both two extremes.

There are also women who work in household jobs, washing , cleaning etc. Chewing tobacco is a personally affordable luxury for some who have troublesome alcoholic husbands and minimal support. They finish work and leave, only to stand somewhere on the stairs landing, pulling out something from the waist knot of their nine yard sari; a tobacco mixture, which they will hold in their palm, and rub it with the other thumb, closing the palm over it, only to plop it into their mouth with a tired, satisfied look, as they carry on to their next work assignment.

There are slightly higher rung folks like taxi drivers, who also chew the weed. These are fellows who don't own the vehicle, but hire it in shifts to drive and earn. They drive at all odd hours, and one of them told me once that this was a good way to keep awake, which was so essential in the Mumbai traffic regardless of time. These guys live in groups , have families back home in the villages, and slowly get into this habit which eats into their life.

The profile of spitters is possibly different in all countries.

A lot of historical, and sociological research points to use of spit to indicate anger against someone. Spitting blobs of stuff on someone is the ultimate insult. Slightly more prosperous folks, who cant make up their minds between following their intrinsic spitting urge, and trying to look like they have come up in the world, have found a compromise in the form of spittoons. You see this spittoon stuff in India, where the spitters are rich in money and spit, but poor in education and giving.

P and I were in Pune recently in Divali. The handy cam was with us, and there was some time on hand. Mumbai has large distances, and time wasting traffic, and so we decided to check out things in Pune.

Many Indian cities will have localities where the residential and commercial aspects seamlessly mix. You come out on to the road, and there is a rickshaw(3 wheeler) stand, a bunch of shops , within 20 feet of you. Rickshaw drivers, waiting for a hiring person, often sit around chewing and spitting.

P and I kind of wandered around with the handy cam, peering into corners, and sides of sidewalks, and bases of fences and trees and stuff, looking for the huge tell tale, horrible, red , spit patterns. Being a dud at filming , but good at locations, I did the looking around, the rickshawallas kept giving me dirty looks.
P, having seen less of the world, got a bit flustered.

"Are you looking for something , Ma'am ?" from one of the braver ones.

"Yes. We are looking for tobacco spit stains, for a short film.
And also for spitters ". Me.

Some fellows looked away, and suddenly spied customers, some pretended to wipe the steering wheel.
Sidling up to me, and threatening me was not an acceptable option. Some even looked at me as if I was fibbing. In the meanwhile we kept spying stuff in corners and filming closeups of walls and compound floors.

A flower vendor at the corner had a big laugh and told us to film the police.
They always spat. As if on cue, a two wheeler with a cop riding pillion came up, and stopped to check something with the vendor. The driver casually spat. And they left, with a frustrated P, and a shocked me, wishing we could have filmed that. Like I said, no one announces that they are spitting.

We turned into a lane to search for a Paanwallah (seller of betel nut leaf chewing mixture), where, someone said, we would spy
spitters, amidst the hangers-on. Just then a rickshaw passed by and someone inside spat out , to P's immense frustration. You can either walk with the handy cam glued to your eye, or walk trying to avoid potholes, which would otherwise trip you down.

We gravitated to the Paanwallah. As soon as they saw P with the handy cam, all the chewers just
stopped chewing. At least what was visible. The Paanwala kind of rose to the occasion .

"Yes ?" as he slathers some pink jelly stuff on the betel leaf.

"We are doing a project on tobacco spitting. Someone told us we could find some folks here . So
where are all the spitting types ? " Me. P kind of cringes at this direct onslaught. She often thinks I am shamelessly direct.

"You won't find anyone just now. Post the swine flu scare and pre Diwali, they've threatened hefty fines for spitters, if seen spitting. Rs 600 . But you know, come by in the evening. There is a larger crowd. Safety in numbers often encourages someone way behind somewhere to desperately spit." He wraps a betel leaf expertly and hands it to a portly man who has been giving us mean looks, and waiting impatiently for it.

"You wont see anyone now. People are scared of the fine.
Who would want to dare putting a hand in a cobra's throat ?" He signs off with this wordy visual.

In the meanwhile P has wandered away with the handy cam, and is gesturing at something , calling out to me. There is a fruit seller in the vicinity. He is sitting on his haunches, chewing something, right next to his cart, loaded with the most delicious fruit.

I feel like purchasing some of it. Loaded with oranges, papayas, custard apples and apples, P thinks I have lost it. But I now have a camaraderie with the chap. I ask if he is chewing Paan. He smiles, displaying stained teeth. And continues to chew.

"Would do spit for us ? This is a project for school ." Me.

He nods. He is from a part of India where women are rarely seen outside the hearth and home. And it is entertaining for him to see these "modern" women doing such films. P mobilizes for the shot. I know now, how directors feel. Actors can act up at times. You have to humor them. Cameramen take their own time setting up. I see P mouth "OK". And after she has had a decent shot of all that chewing , I signal to the guy. He turns his head, lifts his face a bit, narrows the lips and cheeks, and lets off a projectile in red.
Duly captured on film.

P and I cover the spitted stuff with the soil that lies nearby. He watches. A bit embarassed. A bit amused. And continues to chew the remaining portion . Unmoved.

The irony of the whole thing amazes me. We've just got a guy to do something, to make a short documentary that says , "don't do this thing "......

Sports on television, internationally, is replete with players spitting on the ground. It is usual to see cricket players and idols, spitting on to their hands and rubbing spit on to the cricket ball, before handing it to the bowler.
No one is seen objecting. Its certainly not a requirement of the sport.

Maybe we have evolved.

llamas, who are a member of the Camel family, use spitting to settle scores and disputes, establish dominance and pecking order, indicate to males that female llamas are pregnant, and express fear or discomfort. They even have a variety of spit, the worst being
green spit straight from the stomach contents, which is sufficient anger goes over a distnace of even 15 feet, and smells.

In 2007, the worlds biggest (9 feet) spitting cobra was found in Kenya. When attacked, the spitting cobra can spit venom up to 8 feet in order to blind the enemy. Its venom is a neurotoxin which can produce pain and blindness.
Understandably, the cobra aims its spit at the eyes of the attacker.
And then there is this Afrikaans animal called Kudu, which is difficult to hunt, but makes its presence known by leaving pieces of dung around. Inexplicably, there are humans, who make pellets out of this dung, and who get their kicks (and spits) by participating in Kudu Dung Spitting Championships, being officially held since 1994. There is even a champion, 1994 World Champion 'Slinger' van der Merwe, who is to be applauded for his
Kudu Dung Spitting technique.

He removes his false teeth before spitting.

I take a deep breath.

I am just happy we have evolved the way we did given all this background. And the fine of Rs 600 continues.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poetry in voting

Just found out that voting has begun for :

IndiBlogger of the Month
September 2009 Original Poetry

There must be something to Divali. Festival of lights and all that. But I didn't know that all those festive lights would kind of shine down on one of my newer blogs.

IndiBlogger - The Indian Blogger Community
My poetry blog, Strewn Ashes , has been nominated with 185 others :-)
for Indie Blogger of the month.

And the Indiblogger folks have asked us for
5 poetry posts which everyone can vote on.

Interested folks can have a look at them AND VOTE BY CLICKING HERE...

(You need to search for "strewn ashes" on the screen page).

Everyone can vote 5 votes (for the 5 nominated posts) , links to which are shown on the voting page.

I know Christmas is coming.

With more lights.

Maybe some of them will shine here.

Who knows......
and one is grateful !

P. S. facility for flinging shoes, chappals, and tomatoes not currently available. And one needs to practice ducking. My reflexes are a bit slow.

Someone did say you could do all that on the Net too. I pretended not to hear.

Frustrated types are advised to take a deep breath.

And exhale. Slowly.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


Seeing and perceiving.

Notwithstanding the detailed write ups on how the specific part or parts of the brain analyze those images that impinge on the retina, and are reconstructed in some smart place in the brain, there has to be a non-scientific, sociological Indian way of looking at things.

Seeing is what happens when your brain reconstructs the image. Perceiving is what you think about it.

I have often wondered about the custom in many Indian households, where photographs of long departed family members often have pride of place on the walls. Some of the very young family members don't even remember having "
seen" these elders. But the "perception" is that these folks are to be greatly respected and their blessings seeked.

Most Indian, middle class, god-fearing homes, will have a bunch of pictures of grandparents/parents etc, who are no more. They are not part of any decor or interior design, but occupy pride of place , regardless of the style of the frames, or age of the prints, very often, in a living room, and sometimes even close to the corner where the Gods are.

Growing up in the 50's and sixties, we always had two large photographs of my two late grandfathers , in my parent's room. My earliest memories, are of seeing my mother emerging from her daily worship ritual in a corner of the same room, where the Gods were, and she would climb on a stool, to carefully wipe each photo, with the edge of her saree (pallu), something freshly washed and worn for the worship ritual earlier. She would also do a moist wipe, and then would apply a hint of vermilion on each grandfather's forehead, and then touch her head to the lower rim of the photograph frame. Every evening when we came home after playing, washed and recited our prayers, the final thing we did was to bend down and do "namaskar" to each late grandfather.

Whenever we had final exams in school, any competitive exam, or even say, a musical performance we were part of , it was the
done thing to do namaskar to the gods, the late grandparents and then leave. It was assumed that they were looking out for you and that you were blessed. (Touching our parents feet before embarking on anything new, or examinations or a trip somewhere is always done, but we also believe that the older folks are involved in good things that might befall us). So ingrained is this in some families, that on a recent visit to the US, while saying goodbye to a 92 years old American lady, a family friend, my daughter automatically bent to touch her feet , doing a namaskar; she thought she had dropped something, and her son , had to explain, something which she knew, but age had made her forget.

Today we continue the tradition in my home, and the late grandparents on both sides, smile down and I like to think, indulgently look out for us. This tradition of displaying pictures of previous generations is fairly common across India, irrespective of caste, religion, or anything that might be perceived as dividing us.

While those who were in their prime in the mid-20th century, often show up in photographs , mainly from the waist-up, older photos often have elaborate settings, where someone sits centrally in a chair (with curved legs), with an arm on a table(with curved legs and a flower vase), wearing traditional headgear, and the extended family, complete with babies, gathered in an organized manner around him, resplendent in the sepia.

While this philosophy of honoring elders and those departed is an Indian tradition, it is now being followed, on a national level, in the breach. Most government offices will have huge photos of the various presidents and prime ministers, particularly the Nehru Gandhi family lined up behind the official desks. Various leaders owing allegiance to various political parties, again have photographs of their own leaders. Then we have several historical kings and emperors , who also figure on the scene in the form of busts, or say, riding a horse . None of these great images, intimidate any one from conducting unethical , and sometimes illegal actions , right there, under the gaze of the great.

The 20th century and the fight for Independence saw a whole bunch of statues erected to people, so highly regarded by the country, that millions respect them even today.

Unfortunately, the last few years of the 20th century saw the rise , of what one may call the politician "obsessed with presence". It didn't matter what your political philosophy was, it didn't matter that your personal integrity was indeterminate, but the public was bombarded with images of these politicians. This whole attitude has now been honed to a fine art, by the practitioners of statue politics.

Ms Mayawati, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh who set a new standard by erecting 6 statues of herself ( and some others), in various stateswomen poses (and counting) , in her state capital, obviously counted on the impression she would create on rural folk who came wide eyed to the big city, as well as those who would be daily faced with her stern countenance looking at them as they took turns on roads and so on. Constant clobbering of peoples' eyes with an image was expected to firmly entrench it in their minds. Most apolitical innocent citizens would associate greatness with statues.

The southern state of Andhra Pradesh, although ruled by another party, couldn't be seen to be falling behind. The late chief minister , who perished in a recent helicopter crash is all set to be eulogized in 36 statues to be erected across intersections in the state capital Hyderabad. While several other cities are angling for more of these statues, the large forest area where he crashed is scheduled to be cleared into a memorial , possibly with more statues.

One wonders, if the esteem in which the public holds these folks is ever proportional to the number of statues, that they "claim". One wonders if the statues give a false sense of achievement to those who continue to think that appearances are everything and that hard work is optional. One wonders if the whole idea is to impress everyone with what "power" can achieve, and to hell with the means of achieving it.

While folks in urban areas laugh about this, it is the 70% of the country's folks who stay in rural areas, who may get wrongly impressed. They eulogize, those departed and honored elders, and conversely, might conclude that if you are honored in such an "elevated" way, you must be great. These folks are the target of the statue obsessed politicians. And there is a sense that maybe, you can gatecrash history, regardless of performance and service.

Reminds me of the time, in my childhood, when we would visit the ancient Ganesh temple near the house, because , along with the possible blessings, the climb to the place , if attempted in a running manner gave us some excellent evening exercise. Those were examination days, and this trip with parents provided a nice quick break in all that desperate studying. We would often see a whole bunch of slightly older students, doing, say 21 rounds of the main sanctum, muttering stuff, with hands folded. My late mother, who was then a trustee there, once stopped someone to ask . And on hearing their explanations, advised them , that no God was ready to help anyone who didn't put in an effort himself/herself. You needed to study hard yourself, complete your school responsibilities, and then even if you did one round less of the sanctum in the temple, God would surely be pleased to help. Spending hours doing these rounds at the cost of your studies, was not likely to result in happy events.

We actually get what we deserve. Nobody wants to oppose these statue types, who seem to think that someone "seeing" you all the time, will automatically get you "perceived" as great. So more and more climb on the statue bandwagon, a lot of public money is wasted. Unfortunately, there is no one (like my late mother) to tell them, to cut out the statues and get on with work.

On a slightly more cheerful note, here is something that gives seeing and perceiving a new light. See this up close and from a longer distance . Very convenient if your chair has wheels. Two interesting people, who possibly never got involved in statues.

Happy Diwali !

Monday, October 12, 2009

Alarming SPEEDS

I have often wondered about SPEED. I know it has druggy connotations. But what am worried about is the acronym that stands for Socially Petrified Entities Evolving Disastrously.

Most western countries and their social systems have evolved over a few centuries. Scarlett O'Hara still managed to shock people. Barbara Cartland often had , what we call "forward" heroines, fooling around with dukes and lords etc.

This country is 62 years old. She and I almost grew up together. If you think back to the sort of society that existed around our independence (and earlier), and that which exists now, the rate of change of societal standards is mind boggling.

In 62 years, we have covered several centuries of western social development, with interesting results.

As a child, in a reasonably forward thinking educated home, the last time I remember playing with wild abandon with a boy or boys is when I must have been 7-8 years old. We played lots of outdoor games, exchanged story books, had fights, and life was very innocent. Somewhere a couple of years later, the acquaintance continued but the playing and company faded away. Social activities were almost always with one's girl friends. Younger brothers were occasionally allowed by us, subsequent to angry glares from mothers. But catch a girl talking to some guy repeatedly, and the word would reach the concerned parents. Those of us who did sports had it a bit easy as there were practice days which were common, and so we learned to have great healthy friendships with the opposite sex. Regardless of anyone having a special interest in someone, socialising happened always in groups.

College was co-ed, and there was some slack. I lived in a college residency, with roommates. We always looked upon in wonder, awe, and sometimes, disapproval, at some girls, who from day one, had all kinds of fellows coming to see them. Room visits were simply out, and so there would be pairs standing at the gates and talking. Then there were what we called the Modern types, who had armed forces family backgrounds. Between attending social functions in the Regiment Mess, "at homes" hosted by the Commanding Officer, and several left over relics-functions from the Raj days, we would watch open mouthed as they organized themselves to dress up for New year balls, and Divali Balls, and smart fellows in ties and blazers would come to escort them. To us middle class types, the height of interaction was exchanging Physics practicals journals and notes. If we ran into these guys outside college, we sort of looked through them. Occasionally, there would be a class picnic, and we would learn a little bit more about our classmates on these days.

For those of us whose sports activities necessitated a male partner , like in mixed doubles, any communication outside the badminton court was keenly observed and analysed by some folks. A Sikh student who was my partner, was in touch with me to organize a partner for his friend who was also participating in the doubles, and by the time one of my friends could agree to partner the guy, word had reached my mother 200 kilometres away, about a "sudden interest in a Sikh guy". Unfortunately, the person who relayed this to my mother in a "Psst, hear this" kind-of-manner, got an amazing telling-off from my mother since my letters home were full of my college activties and stuff.

Many of my classmates, had arranged marriages in their senior year. Some of us went on to study further and work. I later on had many boys in my circle of friends, and they always came home, and knew my folks. Some of them even kept in touch with my folks in my absence.

Phones were rare. No one had personal phones in college. Even landlines. You used the rector's land line only in a dire emergency. It was letters all the way.

During the first 30-40 years of the life of this nation, social interactions proceeded at a sedate old world pace.

Cut to 2009.

The world reels under the onslaught of the social networking sites. And the cell phone. The big thrill is to talk to someone who you know only as a word on a screen. The smarter you are the more outrageous spellings you write. Overall, your vocabulary is not that impressive.

The Mmmm... generation. And my own, the Hmmmm... generation

Dressing patterns in life have changed in India. Earlier you dressed for yourself, in the safe approved style. Today, you pour over fashion manuals, an inch here and a cut here is supposed to change futures, and boys unabashedly comment in a way that would have gotten them
beaten up in the old days. In the last 30 years, girls have been wearing many more boys clothes, and boys have been sporting hair and earrings a la girls. Not that anatomy is a surprise to anyone, but there is a tendency to display parts of one's anatomy, hitherto considered coverable. Picnics in college have become more worrisome for parents, and like some folks tell me, with a boring tired look, standing with your arms around a girl's shoulder is tres casual and doesn't mean a thing.

Some girls get pressurized into altering lifestyles as they don't have the strength to beat their own path. Magazines are full of folks talking about live-in relationships. How parents have no option but to accept things, as the child is financially independent.

And how, today, 62 years on, no women's magazine sells, unless it has some outrageous announcement on its cover using certain three letter words . Check out the last 7 issues on Femina.

(When I was in grad school in the US in 1970, a room mate's friend was visiting and my jaw dropped open hearing her say that she was very happy with the way she had organised her life and her daily pills; vitamins, calcium, and the birth control pill. They were discussing boyfriends, and she didn't appear to have a steady one. They probably wondered which planet I came from.)

Birth control pills and their TV ads. in India, were earlier of interest to those just married and waiting to stabilize in jobs, families where going on leave was not an option for the lady, or rural women, whose lives needed this control, in a world where more was considered great, regardless of family resources, and the mother's health.

Today, television in India, is replete with ads showing young urban single girls, involving themselves in relationships, and having to undergo the trauma of abortions. All this , secretly away from the knowledge of parents. There is a pill called the I-pill, which is
carelessly advertised as a stroke of genius in a life irresponsibly lead. It shows a young girl at a dining table, who suddenly realizes the date, and something rings a uterine bell which makes the girl rush off for an abortion with all the associated secretive desperate behaviour. And then it says this wouldn't have happened if the girl knew about the I-pill. Click above to watch.

This massive gradient with which society has changed today, has other repercussions. Very fast changes, do not give us realistic ideas about how these affect our lives. There is an underlying stream of thought, that suggests that there is a pill for everything. And everyone wants it now, or even yesterday. Young minds are unable to handle delayed results, rejection and failure. And lack of visible money. And so we have teen suicides, depressions, addictions etc. Something that was not so when we were young.

I continue to wonder if we are going too fast. Every social custom, needs to live out its life, till society learns exhaustively about its good and bad. Things need to naturally evolve.

But we seem to have squished everything into a period of the last 30-40 years, what took the Western society, several centuries.. Funnily these coincide with the advent of IT. We seem to be in a great hurry but no one seems to know where we are going. We seem to be deaf to entreaties that ask us to slow down, think, and plan our life.

I am told I am ancient, and the world has changed.

I fear.

Should we continue to speed along the same graph with the same gradient, I just hope that things come full circle again.

The western world will start idolizing old styles of behaviour and societal interaction. What the western world does, we in India, slavishly absorb. It's happened before. It will happen again.

Then some guys write books saying the World is flat.


Issue a correction.

The world is round. And things must come full circle.

They'd better.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Moonlight bombing

Yes, we can.

But its not such a noble thing to do.

Bomb the moon , that is.

The moon is
much in the news these days. Much about it is celebrated in India. Our entire calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and come the end of the monsoon, we start a period of several festivals in India.

The full moon in the month of Ashwin(September-October) is special. Its is called
Kojagiri Poornima in my state and community. Typically, the monsoon has ended, everything is green , and there is a hint of the onset of cooler days and clearer nights ahead. The story goes that Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, moves around on earth , on this full moon night, visiting folks, and asking in Sanskrit, "Ko jagarti?"(~"Who is awake?"). So folks worship the goddess, spend the night on their terraces, singing songs, enjoying family time, and a special concoction of milk, thickened and spiced with dry fruits, and enriched by the special lunar cosmic radiation, is imbibed by everyone. Some folks even fast on this day.

We also have a mixture of milk and rice flakes (Poha) sometimes. The season heralds the end of hot and humid days, and the onset of cooler longer nights. Digestion is often affected due to this change of seasons (most Indian houses are not climate controlled), and a condition in Ayurveda called pitta gets aggravated. The mixture of milk and rice flakes serves to reduce this problem. And so this custom reminds folks to imbibe something that is good for you, healthwise...

My earliest memories are of everyone in the family gathering on the terrace and enjoying this delicious dry fruit enhanced milk, just comfortably warm, and some one's mother pouring it in steel tumblers, from a huge pot in which it has been prepared, and kept now, to imbibe all the good radiation from the moon. There would be songs sung, children would do mimicry or some similar performances, play group games, and there was also a custom of honoring the eldest child of the house on this night. Then before everything got out of hand, we would be reminded about school the next day, and sent back to earth, so to speak.

Four days later, on the fourth day of the waning cycle of the moon, folks in North India celebrate something called Karwa Chauth (~Karwa = pot, Chauth = fourth). Its a celebration for the prosperity and wellness of husbands. And there are several stories in the scriptures, pertaining to the dedicated power of women, that are told and recited on this day, sometimes even in verse.

The women prepare days ahead , and shop for stuff to fill the pots, and early on the day are woken up by their mother-in-laws, to have a pre dawn meal of sorts. The fast then begins and no one can imbibe any solid or liquid till moonrise , late in the evening. Presents are often received from the bride's mother (for the mother-in-law) at this time. In the evening, there is a family/group or community celebration , where lamps are lit , the pots are passed around, typical songs and prayers are sung, by women dressed in their bridal best. Husbands make it a point not to reach home late on this day. When the moon rises, the women observe the moon through a sieve, carrying a prayer dish with a lamp, a pot of water and a sweet . Their husbands stand in front, and give them their first drink of water for the day, along with a sweet preparation. And everyone goes forth to enjoy a wonderful dinner....

Customs across India vary. But it is interesting to note, that the Moon is referred to by children across India, as "Chandamama" (Chanda= moon, mama=maternal uncle), and of course, the Earth is always the Mother. And so, the moon is family.

So it is with some trepidation that one learned that NASA folks were planning to bomb the Moon, in their search for water. I mean settling into the surface of the moon, with a vehicle, with minimal throw of lunar soil, and Neil Armstrong taking big steps for mankind was one thing. Taking pictures, and analyzing spectra of layers of the moons surface was still tolerable.
But bombing the Moon ? Crashing vehicles on the surface of the moon ? Creating 10 kilometre deep craters on the moon by target bombing , so some satellite up there can analyse what flew up as a result ?

Curiosity and a sense of enquiry is to be admired. But the methods used need to be re evaluated. Have we exhausted investigating all the water systems on earth ? Does everyone on earth have sufficient water available to them ? The richest and most powerful country on earth, spends amazing amounts of money checking out the moon. And even other planets. One of the more successful emerging developing nations, with a huge trained human knowledge resource succeeds in sending a satellite to the moon, and suspects the existence of water.

Would someone be willing to spend such money to bring water to the most remote places in jungles, and mountains, and deserts om earth, so that these places can be inhabited ? Have we run out of space on earth that we need to rush and colonize the moon ? Can any country with the technical know how, simply send a vehicle to the moon, bomb it, and say they found water , and claim the place ? Are there rules about this ? Who makes them ?

Is this how colonization started in the early days ? Are we likely to see a repetition of history ? The last time it was exploration via the oceans. Someone set out to find India and found America instead.

Reminds me of a ancient story of a blacksmith, and a wise man. The latter could make anything happen.

The blacksmith was fed up of his hot environs and said ," I need a change. What wouldn't I give to be a cool stone mountaintop, enjoying the winds!

And so the wise man made him into a mountain stone.

Till a stone cutter came by and decided to cut the stone.

"Please. That hurts. But maybe I will be the cutter myself ! " he said.

The wise man decided to humor this foolishly ambitious chap and made him into a cutter.

And so he walked around searching for good stones to cut, and soon got tired and his feet hurt.

"Hmm. So boring. Enough cutting. But maybe I should simply be the sun ! Looks nice and warm ! "
And so the wise man transformed him into the Sun.

As the story goes, the stone cutter soon realized that he was in the hottest place amidst all his jobs. From his perch up there, he noticed the moon. And it looked so cool.

"Wouldn't it be great being the moon. !" he asked.

The wise man, at the end of his patience, made him the moon, only for him to realize that one part of the moon got so much permanent sun, it was actually warm and not cool. ...

The shameless stone cutter pleaded to be sent back to earth as a stone cutter again. But the wise man had had enough.

As the story goes, he now refused the stone cutter, and said , " " I am weary of your changing. You wanted to be the moon; the moon you are, and it you will remain."

The ancient story ends here, describing how the stone cutter lies there, on the moon, since time immemorial.....

As of Nov 9, 2009, the stone cutter must have realised, that thanks to NASA, his skill is now obselete.

Stones on the moon are now cut with a Big Bang.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Reality bites... and doesn't let go.

Reality shows today are the BIG things on TV.

For some reasons, companies who should know better, fall over each other to sponsor these shows.

Recent entrants have been, a show, "Rakhee ka Swayamwar" ( ~"The groom selection competition by Rakhee"), where a single woman , who in real life, actually specialises as an "item girl" in movies, kind of interviews and tests several eligible chaps through several episodes, and selects one. In keeping with the Indian ethos, future in laws also enter the picture, and are interviewed and allowed to interview the item girl, suddenly developing a blind eye to her dress sense, and a sharp eye to her earnings and publicity potential.

Then there are shows, where a bunch of young people, move around on motorcycles, (~"Roadies", "Splitsvilla", and other MTV style stuff), pitch tents , and perform stunts like jumping into rivers and swimming and retrieving things, climbing trees, dealing with insects and fighting and abusing other competitors etc, all the while, making a show of their skimpy clothes, and not so skimpy beepable vocabulary.

Currently, there is a show (~"The Perfect Bride"), where prospective brides , grooms,
along with mothers-in-law , (all of whom should be actually looking for honest jobs, or looking after their family folks), , completely waste time asking stupid questions and playing emotional games, simply creating problems.

And not to be outdone, there is a show now ,"Pati Patni aur woh" (~"Husband , Wife and Him/her") , that has a whole bunch of couples, looking after babies /toddlers, who don't belong to them, in an effort to allow people to judge their parenting capacities.

Notwithstanding the fact that none of the above methods for achieving the said goal, have any scientific basis , it has fallen to me, a simple unassuming middle class individual, to suggest some more reality shows, with possibly, a more authentic base.

1 . " Mujhe Jana hai "or in English, "I need to go" : The big advantage here is that they will not need any special fancy set, with outlandish furniture, and people in even more outlandish clothes. These locations are available all over Mumbai. Normally freely. But given the needs of those providing the facilities, there will a non trivial charge.

6 men and 6 women, some young, some old, and some with young children, will stay in one room, bathroomless ,waterless tenements in the Mumbai slums, for a fortnight. To start with, they will be provided with cheap oil for cooking, primus stoves, and a couple of buckets, pitchers, and tumblers. A few thin bedspreads. They will be filmed filling water everyday at a communal tap as they make their way in the early dawn, stepping carefully amidst prostrate drunks, and trash heaps. There will be honest closeups as they are abused by the local goons, and even more closeups if they deal with the goons.

The highlight of their stay on a daily basis, will be their approach and ability to use the communal bathrooms and toilets, managing priority amidst 60 other similar thinking residents. Physical assaults and use of undesirable language will dock marks off your final score. Ability to respect some one's genuine need, age and sex, will be considered a plus.

The episodes will be aired everyday at 8:30 pm, so other folks can watch at dinnertime. The sponsor company will give a free bathroom to the winner, and construct a free bathroom-toilet complex for the locality where this happens. Talks are on with a Mr Danny Boyle, for a role in his next Magnum Opus, "Flush Millionaire !"

2. "Oye ! Dikhta nahi Kya ?" or in English, "Oye! Cant you see?" : The interesting thing in this reality show is that you don't really need a set . But the producers will select one of Mumbai's numerous amazing and wondrous traffic-blessed roads, with splendid diversions and potholes.

6 men and 6 women , will be given police uniforms, and made to function as traffic cops from 8 am till 10 pm, regardless of the weather. There will be no brunch, lunch or tea breaks, although, it will be assumed that you are aware that small eateries in the area often feed the cops, gratis.

Each of the contestants will be given a receipt book. Pockets of each contestant will be examined and the contents noted, prior to the days outing. They will be free to stop anyone on the road, truck drivers, cars with tinted windows, motorcycles, even cows. Use of imagination in accusing ordinary folks on the road, of various traffic offences will be observed by the judges, who will come by , wearing uniforms and mafia sunglasses, and sit in jeeps with red lights. Whenever the contestants zero in on someone to catch, they are supposed to shout, "Oye ! Dikhta nahi hai, kya ?" Failure to do this may result in disqualification.

The contestant who can catch the maximum number of drivers in a week, will be declared winner for the week, and will earn an amount equal to 1000 times the fines he/she charged, less the amount found accidentally, of course, in his pocket.

There is a waiting list of contestants for the above...

3. "Kal Aa Jao" or "Come tomorrow" : This , reality show title, to issue an important clarification, is not an invitation. It's actually a way of avoiding or deflecting someone. "Go away" is what we said to the British. Within India, we say something else. Like the title of this show.

The participation here will be in groups of 3. Mother,father and child.

Each of the groups will compete in completing several things, like getting admission for their child in a neighboring school, buying essential grains and kerosene from the Public Distribution System Grain Shops, and visiting municipal offices for organizing a water tap connection for their locality/house.

There will be 6 groups. All will get a week to complete the above assignments. Each group will be given a starting fund of Rs 10,000 only, to be used "intelligently", and no questions will be asked.

Secret cameras will film the groups, and they will not know who the cameraman is, as he will change every day. This show will also test your knowledge of who your municipal representative is, how you approach him, present your case, and if need be, expose him.

The winner will be decided by, (a) whoever completes all 3 tasks successfully, (b) has maximum money left out of the discretionary fund of Rs 10,000 and (c) whoever makes the least noise about the whole thing.

The last precaution is required so that this reality show may have an unhindered run.

What remains now, is the question of judges and public voting.

While various names, like some leading actors, actresses, out-of-work cricketers, politicians and their sons and daughters are making the rounds, as likely judges, what is interesting is that the rush here, is for judging the last two suggested reality shows, having to do with cops and municipal facilities , and of course, importantly, the "discretionary fund" availability.

In the meanwhile, my old household help, who has been observing the current spate of nonsense reality shows about brides, grooms , mother-in-laws, and motorcycles, on TV, is leaving no stone unturned to be accepted as a a candidate for the first.

The individual prize, a personal family bathroom, is a huge attraction.

(Wish her luck......)