Monday, November 30, 2009

Richer than rich

Click the Grahic to Vote Now

Thank you for voting .....!

Mornings are a busy time. There are buses to catch, keys to search, lunches to pack, doorbells to answer. We have a chap who comes each morning to ask if we need any groceries, and you need to remember and write it in a book for him. Once everyone has left for work/school et al, one searches and collates all the newspaper pages together, and prepares for a relatively relaxed read.

One of the greatest pleasures of my life is to be comfortably ensconced in a chair, feet up, reading the paper, and for my household help, M, to land up (she has a key to the front door), potter a bit in the kitchen, and ask me if I would like a cup of tea ! There is nothing more wonderful than to have a cup of gingered tea brought to you, in your own house, without you having to ask, and without you having to move an inch.

M has been with me for the last 25 years. She has seen me through the childrens' childhood years, happy days, worried days, sad days, and days of wonder. She has seen the respective grandparents on visits, chatted with them, indulged them, taken their messages on the phone (initially holding it upside down), in my absence sometimes, and sympathized with me like family when they one day were no more.

She has had a very difficult early married life, and has now come into her own as a strong woman head of household in her own family.

That day she finished her work, and sort of hovered around as I sat writing something.

"I need some help" , she said, wiping her hands on the edge of her sari pallu. "Will you write a speech for me ?"

My moving fingers, came to a sudden stop . M, and giving a speech ? This was wonderful. Of course I would. But I needed to know the details and the occasion.

Turns out that her elder sisters husband was attaining his 60 years, and also retiring from his job as an office clerk. The entire extended family, his colleagues, and many others were planning for a big event , to wish him well for the future. This man, with a greatly altruistic bent of mind, was someone everyone consulted, and he was always available to help, whether it was advising on procedures, helping with admissions, jobs, litigations, helping with the sick and disabled, fixing marriages, handling acrimonious family misunderstandings , and just about anything that you needed help for. He always harped on the importance of education, and was about to publish a book of Marathi poems he had written over a number of years.

M's family was to attend, and were thinking of a decent gift. As is traditional, they thought of a shawl and coconut for the gent and a really nice sari for his wife. And then M had an idea.

" You know, the shawl and sari looks good, but everyone will gift that. What good is receiving 35 shawls and an equal number of sarees, some of which , his wife may not even like ? And who uses shawls in hot and humid Mumbai ? Besides you can wear only one sari at a time...." she said.

" So what do you have in mind ? " I asked, "and why a speech ?"

She hesitated a bit. Thinking.

"You know, Bapu (her sister's husband), is not a rich man in the conventional sense. Still, he has made it his life's vocation to help and guide other folks looking to improve themselves through education and guidance from the correct folks. Sometimes, he even ends up spending from his own pocket, when the person is very needy or old. I wanted to put all this saree and shawl money in an envelope and present it to him, to use in such situations. . What do you think of my idea ? And do you think its too little an amount ?" Saying so, she sat down on the carpet, wiped her forehead, and looked to see if my tea cup was empty.

I was speechless. It didn't really matter what the amount was. I thought her idea was brilliant. It rocked. And she rocked.

"But why do you want me to write you a speech ? You don't read yourself . " I asked.

She sort of got a bit embarrassed.

"You know , its going to be a big felicitation for Bapu. Many people will speak . I want to say something about what we learnt from him. I can't read or write. But the children can. And my eldest daughter-in-law who has completed plus 2, will read the speech on the stage.

Can you write all that "Bandhu and Bhagini "(ladies and gentlemen) stuff , and then add something that says, that Bapu has taught us to think of those that are not as fortunate as us, and help them. That every time something good happens to us, a little of that needs to rub off on those who are still trying to improve. And that giving support morally to someone who is trying hard to succeed honestly, is the best thing anyone can do. Richness is not all about money. And possessions. Its more about being rich enough to give. And so we save this money and plan to hand to Bapu to use as he sees fit, to help someone. ....."

I was totally dumbstruck. What a brilliant idea ! And what a wonderful woman, who takes such great pride in a daughter-in-law who is more educated than everyone else including her husband, ( M' son), and no one gets insecure about it ! It certainly took guts to go against the existing tradition of gifting shawls and coconuts and sarees, and possibly stupid comments from some others in the extended family outside.

I wrote her a short speech for her daughter-in-law to say. She was back, a day later, with the young lady, and asked her to say it once in front of me, as she stood behind, with an envelope in hand, and pretending that her family was standing with her, trying to simulate the event as it would happen in a few days.

I just wondered about one thing. She has two daughters in law. The other was a wee bit younger. And would feel left out. I thought entrusting the felicitation aarti for Bapu to her would be a decent idea. I offered to lend my aarti paraphernalia to M for that.

M had a smile playing on her lips. She understood why I suggested what I did. She liked the speech, and the way the elder daughter-in-law did the stuff in a respectful manner. The younger one would stand along side with the aarti lamps. Both the girls were great friends, besides sisters-in-law, and this would please them no end. And no one would feel left out.

I heard about the event a few days after it took place. Many folks liked what M did. Most of all, her own mother, 86, who attended the event, peering from the front row, through thick glasses, at what was happening on stage, and quietly approved, removing her glasses to wipe her moist eyes with the edge of her saree pallu. M's late father would have approved.

Mumbai is full of rich people , possibly still itching to get richer. Hankering after one more house, one more building, one more cellphone, one more car, one more factory, one more son, one more designer outfit, one more extravagant piece of jewellery, and one more upping of the nose at the neighbors. Two brothers, still fighting, on the Forbes Rich peoples list, but at the end of the day, not rich enough in mind .

I thought M, beat all of them, just plain hollow.....

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Suitable Technology.....

Click the Grahic to Vote Now

Thank you for voting .....!

To get on with things.....

When I finished high school(1965), the college system forced us to choose between three streams. Arts, Science, and Commerce. School was 11 years. You then did 2 years of college.

After the first year, you chose either the A group (mathematics) or the B group (Biology), say , in the Science stream. One more year later , you could then choose to enter, what were then considered the hallowed portals of Engineering or Medicine, depending on whether you came from A or B respectively. Which was a bit unfair to folks like me who enjoyed French, English literature, Physics, Maths and Biology equally. Those were the days of emerging illogical willful thinking, and despite suggestions by many on how good engineering would be (given that I qualified , marks wise), I continued in the Science stream for two more years, to get Bachelor of Science degree (and more later).

Ever since then I have had a sneaking admiration for usage of a technology for something other than what it was intended for.

Think seat belts. In our 36 year old faithful Fiat, we were grateful to have seats, forget belts. The new cars that suddenly came with the new economy, came with seat belts, and immediately, the Mumbai Police made a law about wearing them. The demarcation between laws, breakage, and penalties is fuzzy by definition. Different cities have different rules about who should be compulsorily wearing seat belts.

But I have a suggestion that should have seat belt manufacturers drooling in anticipation.

All the legislatures, including our Parliament , should have seats with seat belts, the additional feature being that they are remote controlled. To pacify the members , there may be different colors of seat belts. Like black belts for worthies in the first row, blue ones for wide eyed followers, green ones for shirkers, and red ones for fence sitters at the back benches.

I was also going to suggest helmets. Since worthies wearing their seat belts , will still have their hands free.

The purpose is to bring a modicum of discipline in the normal behaviour of legislators, as they get up, and dash to the well of the house, sometimes even holding some other front row worthies by their collars, and punching them. Legislative TV is full of videos where so called peoples' representatives shake their fingers at the speaker, shout, and shove people around, yanking out microphones, chairs, flinging them with abandon.

An impressive electronic console behind the speaker could lock the seat belts remotely once the session has begun. The microphones would work only when seat belts are locked and the helmets on. The speaker can change rules, that allow members to sit (instead of standing up) and participate in the proceedings. A giant screen , similar to the one that says "Sachin, not out" at stadiums, can solve the problems of visibility in the constituency, as the members endeavour to exhibit their speeches.

Should one of the pear/apple shaped worthies, mechanically break the belt and try to throw things, the helmets would provide great protection. It goes without saying that the helmets provided to members will be free. Like they say in company reports, and mostly as a formality, "no current member of the House, is deemed to be interested in the manufacture and supply of these helmets". Which is probably untrue, given the fact that replacements for helmets are also free, and the coincident increase in buying of two-wheelers by the kith and kin of members is to be ignored.

Of course, leading industrial houses, some Reliable, some not so reliable, will be in the fray for providing the software and hardware for the system console. In addition, training of personnel would be done, with 33% reservation for women , in the selection of console operators. See, the timing is important. After the disastrous comment made about women by the Indian Air Force Chief, and Her Excellency , the President's outstanding sortie in a fighter aircraft at the age of 75, there will probably be no opposition to the idea.

It is entirely possible that in a few years, someone will expose what will be called the Helmet Controversy, or the Seat belt Scam. I am confident though, that the system will sail through and continue, given that some judge appointed to look into this, will take 18 years to give his report. Which will not see the light of the day, as someone will have lost the papers.

I guess I am getting patriotic in my old age. Its not as if I only think about the high and mighty.

I often think about those I encounter on a daily basis, those dodging obstructions on the road, wild wandering animals, those driving through red lights, those turning a blind eye .....

And there are also simple technologies.

Did I tell you about the whistle......

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Candiddate Gappa

Despite what you might think, I am not threatening anyone with the rolling pin or cricket bat(depending on who is reading this).....its just my bai-style :-)

You know how it feels when someone old enough to have her own blogging child, and from a perfectly ordinary middle class background, is sort of plucked from somewhere and suddenly thrust on to the stage to mingle with the leaders ?

You don't?

Well, I do. And it takes some time getting used to.

Well, this blog is up for voting in the Best Humanities blog category, of the Indibloggies 2008.

The Jury has carefully selected and lined up the deserving contenders for the final rally...

You will be shown a page with the various blog names. You choose the one(s) you wish to vote for, and the site asks you for a valid email address. You will get an email at that address, where you need to click on a link to have your vote registered as valid. Simple.

Please go here to vote. Voting starts Nov 25, and ends December 10. (India time)

Incidentally the blogging child is nominated in the Sports Category for his serious cricket blog. A Cricketing View. A click there to vote (on the same voting page) would gladden the heart...

I hope you guys vote for me and mine.

That's what Obama said. I hope you do too.

Thank you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New species : PoliticoE. Coli.

"Sweet as Can Be: How E. Coli Gets Ahead"

I just came across this article, in the regular updates I get from a source called Science Daily. It occurred to me that there was an eerie similarity between our politicians and the E coli, hereafter called by me as PoliticoE. Coli.

An experiment at replacing certain words in the scientific original report yielded the following.

Original report in left column in green. My take on the right column in red.

Scientists at the University of York have discovered how certain bacteria such as Escherichia coli have evolved to capture rare sugars from their environment giving them an evolutionary advantage in naturally competitive environments like the human gut.

Microbes are well-known for their ability to grow in demanding and nutritionally poor environments, which has allowed them to colonise some of the most remote places on the planet. Bacteria living in theoretically nutrient-rich environments like the mammalian intestine face similar challenges due to intense competition between bacterial species in the intestine for the finite amount of available food.

Researchers led by Dr Gavin Thomas in the University's Department of Biology discovered that a protein present in the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli was a unique sugar transporter.

Common sugars like glucose form a cyclic structure called a 'pyranose' when dissolved in water. All transporters for glucose recognise the pyranose form. But, for sugars such as galactose, which is commonly found in dairy produce, around 10 per cent is found in a different ring form called a 'furanose'.

Initial work on the unknown E. coli transporter by Dr Thomas's team suggested that it was a galactose transporter. The researchers knew that E. coli has a galactopyranose transporter already, so why should the bacterium have evolved another system to do exactly the same thing?

The answer to the problem was discovered when researchers led by Professor Keith Wilson in the York Structural Biology Laboratory solved the 3D structure of the protein, revealing that it was bound to the rarer furanose form of galactose. Experiments by Dr Jennifer Potts in the University's Centre for Magnetic Resonance confirmed that the transporter was the first biological example to recognise furanose over pyranose forms.

Dr Thomas said: "The picture that emerges is that bacteria have evolved many related transporters to allow them to exploit every possible potential source of nutrient in their environment. Being able to use the extra 10 per cent of galactose available in the gut appears a trivial adaptation. But it is exactly the small change required to allow E. coli to grow a little bit faster when galactose is present in the gut, and so persist at the expense of other species of bacteria."

Bloggers at Gappa have discovered how certain species such as PoliticaEscherichia coli have evolved to capture rare power from their environment giving them an evolutionary advantage in naturally competitive environments like the city elections

Candidates are well-known for their ability to grow in their own demanding and other peoples nutritionally poor environments, which has allowed them to monopolise some of the most remote places in the country. Candidates managing the theoretically potential-vote-power-rich environments like the city slums face similar challenges due to intense competition between candidate species in the city for the finite amount of available money resources

Researchers led by Dr Ugich Konitari in the Inquisitive Department of Bloggery discovered that a mafia don present in the slum population PoliticoEscherichia coli was a unique funds transporter.

Common contributors like shops/commerce form a docile structure called a 'threatenose' when dissolved in shouts. All transporters for contributions recognise the threatenose form. But, for funds from such as industry, which are commonly found in the licencing department, around 10 per cent is from a different set called a 'withholdpermissionose'.

Initial work on the unknown PoliticoE. coli transporter by Dr Konitari's's team suggested that it was a election funds transporter. The researchers knew that PoliticoE. coli has a election-fund transporter already, so why should the candidates have evolved another system to do exactly the same thing?

The answer to the problem was discovered when researchers led by Professor Ugich in the Gappa Structural Society Laboratory solved the n-dimensional utility equation, of the votes, revealing that it was bound to the rarer "currency" form of election funds. Experiments by Dr Iknewit in the University's Centre for Automatic Fund Flow confirmed that the funds transporter was the first shameless example to recognize threatening-attitudes over polite-request forms.

Dr Konitari said: "The picture that emerges is that candidates have evolved many related funds transporters to allow them to exploit every possible potential source of funds in their environment. Being able to usurp the extra 10 per cent of government land available in the city appears a trivial adaptation. But it is exactly this specific attitude change that is required, to allow candidates to grow a little bit faster when mafia dons are present in the constituency, and so persist at the expense of other weaker sections of society."

I always knew these politicians were as bad or worse that these E. Coli. This confirms it :-)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pausing to inhale.....

Its getting a bit tough amidst the huffing and puffing, and an adamant refusal to wear cycling gear a la cycling shorts, which would enhance the speed (mine), but hurt the eyes (yours).

The journey has been interesting, the scenery breathtaking, and the folks that I have met, just amazing.

But its nice doing the last stretch at almost 60, with the young ones, some of them, my own.

This blog has been nominated in the Indibloggies 2008 selections in the Humanities category. The next generation in the family has been there before, and has again been nominated here in the Sports category.

Details of voting/procedure yet to come. Will keep you informed.

In the meanwhile, let me get on that bike, and pedal ahead. The climb is steep, the air refreshing, and I am sure the grass is going to be greener on the other side .....

P. S. Just heard that one has figured with Vivek Patwardhan, in a Times of India article on Elder Bloggers. In the last paragraph...... :-) .......

The old lady of Powai, appreciates the mention from the Old Lady of Boribunder......

Friday, November 20, 2009

Progress and Sanitation

Progress , often has something to do with "improvement in rank". Or perceived upgradation in stature.

To someone like Mukesh Ambani, it might mean climbing higher in the Forbes Rich people's list. To some, it might even mean graduating from cutting chai and udupi filter coffee, to Cafe Coffee Day, notwithstanding the fact that free wi-fi for your laptop and a fancifully named bitter beverage is never a match for 2 masala dosas. A chief minister may not rest till he has achieved his planned level of progress by buying an "official" personal plane, while to some, having 35 police, one bulletproof car, and stopped traffic may simply be the ultimate in progress. And we wont mention personal statues.

When you are a member of the Third world, everything that emulates the First world is automatically considered progress.

Including toilets. Which this city has not been able to provide along with a modicum of housing, to those who continue to stream into it, in search of work. There are some very dedicated organizations that work in this field , like Sulabh Shauchalaya, but space is very expensive in big cities , and progress then is slow.

Sometimes, progress to some, means graduating to western style toilets. Commodes.

During my working life, I once had the opportunity to shift to a special newly constructed building. In contrast with the rest of the 30 year- old buildings around us, this place had wide sweeping staircases, nice wide windows, modern beams traversing above, and great fixtures and facilities to enable infrastructure.

The bathrooms, were big, airy, had a decent amount of space outside the toilets with mirrors and sinks. Nothing that screamed "posh interiors", but the only trouble was, all the toilets were western. Which was something that begged explanation. Some of the ladies endured difficult travel for large periods of time, with no en-route toilet facilities, and a decent comfortable toilet on arrival was a welcome thought.

Most of us have grown up using the Indian style toilets. To this day, many of us are not terribly thrilled with western style toilets, which are considered unhealthy, in construction as well as usage. It's not a question of physical comfort. Its what you are comfortable with. And paper fails miserably compared to water, if you get what I mean.

In my childhood, folks who boasted of commodes in their toilets, were either in the armed forces, Anglo-Indian, Parsi, Christian, or someone who had returned after working for the government abroad, say, in the Civil Service, which was initiated during British Raj. We used to associate such folks with those who wore shoes in the house (regardless of weather), and wore lipstick and sleeveless blouses on sarees.

Our parents' generation was probably the first generation to get knee problems in their late seventies. And slowly, an additional bathroom with a commode first appeared in the house. Today, some folks in their 50's take immense pride is their inability to use an Indian Style bathroom. Partially because they are not fit, and partially because, it's "progress "...

To get back to the original story, the ladies of the section , a sizable number, discussed the matter together, and decided to put in an application for one of the bathrooms to be converted to a Indian style bathroom. A letter was drafted , signed, and sent to the Estate/Establishment Office , through, what is called "proper channels". Its not as if anyone was asking for an advance salary, unusual special leave or special permission of any kind, but the Head had to recommend that the higher ups pay attention to this. It made "going to the toilet" an official activity.

This resulted in several worthies suddenly appearing in a group to "tour" the facilities under question, and "discuss" the matter with the applicants. Possibly, an application was then put up to the highest planning authority (who normally sanctioned entire buildings and stuff) for "sanctioning" this. Some days later, a second-rung set of people appeared to take some measurements. Someone went back, and "put up" a note. After a few weeks, a possible configuration of an Indian style toilet, with diagrams was presented, with details of materials, and gauges, and assorted stuff. None of the ladies who travelled long distances, in crowded trains, standing, really had anything to say; they would just be happy if they did the modifications fast.

A couple of months later, the needful was done, and lo behold, the ladies acquired an Indian style bathroom. Probably considered a regressive act, but never mind.

Nov 19, was International Toilet Day. There were the usual articles in the papers , symbolic things like gathering to "squat on the beach", laudatory articles on those who were working in this field. There were also frustrated articles on how we are a dirty population, and how people don't follow hygiene while using the loos in what are the latest in Mumbai : Malls.

Many malls have only the western style toilet model. Not everyone who comes to visit these malls is acquainted with these, and comfortable with these. Very young children probably regard it as a hole into which they will fall, and cry. The railways take this to another exalted level. I have indelible memories of travelling , 25 years ago, from Mumbai to Delhi by Rajdhani, with a 24 month old son, whose trip to the bathroom consisted of both of us going in, me holding him on the commode, and he bursting into a loud wild uncontrollable cry, as he saw the rails and ground go past as he looked down the commode hole; he would insist of coming out of the bathroom, but would get desperate to go again, and the whole drama repeated several times till at some point nature involuntarily won, but the entire trip was traumatic for the little kid, and highly entertaining to the remaining travellers. Which is not to say that the Indian style toilet, in trains was any different. You could see the rails there too, but we never got to use that because there was a bigger demand for usage there.

Malls are a very western concept, accepted with great alacrity by Indians. That, is considered progress. For folks in mall-less cities, it is a matter of great pride to say that they visited so-and-so mall, and went around all the brand names. That's progress. For some, vegetables are nicer when bought in a place in the mall, that sells them cling-wrapped, resting in AC comfort, amidst rows and rows of other veggies, all at higher prices, and you lug them around in carts. Clearly, the neighborhood vegetable vendor, where you break a bean between your fingers to test the freshness, before he puts it in your cloth bag, with some free coriander and green chillies thrown in, is NOT progress.

Is it too much to ask that Indian style toilets be provided there ? In a city where the government has things to say about the language in which you display your shop/company name, can someone make a rule saying premises should have Indian style toilet facilities as an option ?

If a justification be required, the way it was, in our office, the health and other benefits may be found here.

Oh yes. Before I forget. Happy belated International Toilet Day.....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Action in the time of Baburam....

In another country, and posher circumstances, Baburam would be called the Maitre-de. He doesn't know that, and he doesn't really care.

He is the head of all the waiters at what is called an Udupi eating place near the women's college. Named after a Godess, the hotel, that is. Frequented by the students who sometimes get fed up of the fare dished out at their college canteen, the place consists of an outer "general" area, and an enclosed, air conditioned area mostly frequented, by the girls, and sometimes, families who find themselves in that part of town. There is a huge hospital nearby, and this is probably the only "reasonable " place in the vicinity where folks can drop by for a bite.

Baburam is in charge of the inner " airconditioned " sanctum, as one might call it. A typical lunchtime crowd there would consist of say, a preoccupied single chap, not terribly particular about what to order so long it is brought fast, and is very fresh, as he continues to solve crisis after crisis on his cell phone, talking loud enough for everyone else to worry. Or a gaggle of college friends, on a spur-of-the-moment visit, where they share 3 dosa's amidst 5 of them, that is, when they are not exclaiming about some revelation or the other. Or a family with grandparents, parents and small kids, the latter unable to make up their minds , because they want everything. And then there are couples who saunter in, looking forward to whispering in the entire existing cacophony.

Baburam , known to an entire generation of patrons of the place, often knows what you like and remembers that. He makes a big song and dance about serving icecream to the younger children, and will often cajole, elderly types who come in by themselves, to try the particular dessert that day. He often knows who likes to share the coffee, and an extra cup always appears, without asking. He is very observant, and has his standards. If you share some of your friend's stuff, and take some of it in your plate which originally had something else, he will shake his head, go tsk tsk, and a fresh plate will appear, as if by magic at your table.

Notwithstanding what is today portrayed in Bollywood movies, and certain women's magazines, the standard conservative middle class college going girl does not suffer from the Friday night/Saturday night Syndrome. Socializing with the opposite sex is mostly in groups of friends, and frequently secret wishes and feelings remain secret. Once in a while, things appear to jell, and a young boy and girl walking into such a place for coffee, looking for a place to be together, is not a surprise. Strangely, attitudes and gestures as depicted in movies are a big influence and sometimes, what started out as a thrilling romantic interlude , tends to become a troublesome episode, particularly for the girl.

On a recent trip to the place for a late lunch, we saw a young couple seated at the corner table. The girl was clearly a girl from the college, and observing their gestures and behaviour it was clear that both were in awe of the occasion, rather than each other. Meeting, away from parental knowledge and sanction, alone, and having your friends whispering about you leaving with this guy for coffee , was a new kind of high. He had probably borrowed his friends mo bike, and probably thought of the latest ad he had seen on TV, where the guy went zooming off with the girl into the sunset..

We were half way through our meal, when we noticed the girl kind of cringing, and trying to shift away from the guy. He was sitting beside her, which was , in the first place, a daring thing to do. There wasn't much space between the wall and her, and in all that desperation, a glass of water got knocked down. The cleaning staff, quietly activated itself, and tried to gather the pieces and wipe the stuff, with the girl getting a breather, and the fellow giving them dirty looks. There were several of us at the various tables, but no one wanted to interfere.

About a minute later, word must have reached Baburam, who often went outside to the reception, to finalize the bills before presenting them. The door opened, and Baburam casually came in, checking with each of us if wanted wanted to order anything. Then he relayed some messages outside , and stood around in a corner like he usually did.

Things were getting really troublesome for the girl. Nothing was happening like in the movies or novels. The guy literally had her cornered, and was taking advantage of the fact that she wouldn't shout. There was a film of sweat on the girl's forehead, despite the air conditioned atmosphere.

Suddenly, there was a tap on the boy's shoulder. Baburam loomed over him. Pointed to the other side of the table, and motioned with his eyes, that the boy needed to move over. It took the fellow a moment to understand what was happening. Here was the headwaiter, so to speak, tapping him , and ordering him to shift, so to speak. No words were exchanged at all. Baburam pulled out a chair for him on the opposite side, and very politely gestured that he should sit there. But there was a look in his eyes, that said "Shift, or else".....

The guys bravado had gone for a toss. He quietly got up and moved over. The girl took a deep breath, and sat a bit more comfortably, keeping her purse now where the fellow earlier was.

The two kind of sat in embarrassed silence for a while, paid the bill and got up to leave. The girl had gone out, when Baburam took the fellow aside, an spoke to him. A few minutes later , the fellow left.

Baburam noticed our questioning glances.

"You know this is a women's college. A lot of families , feel it safer if their daughters attend such a college, and are very wary of sending their daughter to co-ed colleges. Then these girls end up making undesirable friends in class, who introduce them to their outside male friends and get into these casual flings. Maybe its a prestige thing to bunk a class and go out like this. And before they know it, things get out of hand. They hardly know the fellow. Some of the fellows take advantage of the girls.

Whenever I see things reaching a point like today, I just interfere. And I make it a point to have a word with the guy. You know, I was also young once. Sometimes the guy listens. Sometimes they abuse me. Back in my native place, I have a daughter a bit younger than this girl. I know times have changed, everything is so "forward" . But basic decency has to be maintained..."

There was nothing more left to be said. Baburam probably never went beyond class 7, and on his meagre savings, helped an entire family back home. While he probably stayed in cramped quarters , nay, room, with maybe ten other folks similarly employed.

But he kept his eyes and ears open, and learned from life around him. A single person like this is probably an inspiration to his colleagues.

We wished him and left. Thinking.

Mumbai is known to be a very fast city, where people are always hurrying to go somewhere. No one has time for idle chitchat. They say there is something for anyone who comes to Mumbai, and nobody goes hungry . It is also very easy to be misled and fooled in Mumbai.

And then occasionally, you meet a Baburam, and feel, the place cannot be so bad after all....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Solutions from the heart

At 75, she looked back at her life with a lot of satisfaction. At a time when norms of behaviour for a new bride in her in-law's house were fairly conservative, she was lucky to travel and set up house with her husband who worked in another town, away from home. Living with people from all over the country who came to work there, this was her introduction to the customs from different communities, that make up he mosaic that is India. Nucleisation of family life sometimes brings a different kind of freedom to a family. There is less minding of overbearing P's and Q's, and more open thinking. But she always remembered her family back home, and ensured that the children spent some fun times at their grandparents' home during the summer holidays.

Today was her little grandson's birthday. The first one after she lost her husband, ten months ago. The little boy's maternal grandparents had traveled over for the event, from out of town, and the house was all hustle and bustle with the boy's mother organizing the eats and games for the evening. The cake was home made , iced according the wishes of the little boy.

She remembered the last birthday, when her husband had distributed the prizes to all the little ones who won in the games, with the birthday boy holding his hand, jumping in excitement as his friends rushed up to get their prize. Late that night, after everyone had left, the little boy had sat with his grandfather, and opened all his fancy presents, both of them admiring the stuff, as the ladies were organizing the left over food and the mess in the living room, that remains after some boisterous 7 years olds have finished with it.

Traditionally , every birthday, an aarti was done for the little boy. He sat on a "paat" , east-west facing always; and every year, the two grandmothers, his mother, any aunts who happened to be there, as well as the household help lady who was like a family member did the aarti. His face would gleam in the light of the oil lamp, as he beamed at the ladies, and they would apply some vermilion and turmeric and rice grains on his forehead.

She sat to the side today, and watched the hustle and bustle of the preparations. She never ever sat idle and her hands were always busy with something like shelling the cardamom, or peeling cucumbers or boiled potatoes , or whatever was the requirement of that time.

The boys mother did the aarti. Then his maternal grandmother , who was nearby , did her turn, and she looked around for the other grandma. She was watching them all, an indulgent look on her face, some old memories bringing an occasional old thought into her eyes, and she smiled at the little boy.

"Aji, come, its your turn !" and he looked expectantly at her.

"I need to just get done with this for your mother", she said, " You all carry on "....

The boy's other younger grandmother understood, but didn't agree with what was happening.

Widowhood was a new factor now, and at 75 years of age, all the old customs came back to the elder grandma.She wouldn't do aarti for the little boy. It wasn't auspicious. Her heart didn't agree at all. But her head was in the grips of age old tradition.

"Tai, come , its your turn now. Its OK, we will do the cardamoms later. " the younger grandma said, trying to act casual. The little boy was not to know why his older grandma was hesitating.

She went to the older lady and spent some moments cajoling her into doing the aarti.

"No, No. Its OK. You carry on. My mind is not in it." she said. The older lady , acutely aware of her widowhood, was trying to exclude herself, thinking her participation would be unlucky.

Her daughter-in-law went over. She and her mother insisted that the older grandma participate.

"You know, Aji has to do aarti for her grandson. Its your blessing, and see, he is waiting. How can the birthday be properly celebrated otherwise ?" . And saying so, the younger grandma held the hand of the elder one, and escorted her to where the little boy sat.

Aji looked very gratefully at the ladies, her face a fleeting mixture of sorrow and joy, and slowly took charge of the aarti plate , and shielded the lamp with one hand. She bent down to apply vermilion and turmeric and rice to the little boy, and did the aarti.

The little fellow had a smile on his face, eyes twinkling, and he seemed to be holding something half hidden in the folds of his shirt, which was not tucked in yet. Sometime during the time that the ladies were busy convincing the elder grandma, that no taboo or tradition, irrespective of marital status, could stop a grandma from doing aarti to her grandson, he had quietly got up, grabbed his grandpa's photo from the side table, and was clutching it tight in his hands. The family was complete ......

She straightened up from the aarti, passed the paraphernalia to her daughter-in-law, so the lamp could be kept in front of the Gods, and looked at the younger grandma who was standing beside her. They both had tears flooding their eyes. They had no words, and none were needed. They suddenly decided there was some stuff that needed their attention in the kitchen /balcony etc and slowly made their way there.

For the little boy, something had changed. He was a big boy now. He knew that God had taken away his grandpa almost a year ago. He suspected that his grandma was missing him on this day. So he did the obvious. Grandpa watched , as grandma did the aarti, and the little boy was pleased.

His grandpa would be watching the entire birthday, from the frame on the side table .

The little boy's mother thought she noticed an extra smile playing on face in the photograph.

The two grandmas were at peace in their minds.

They couldnt get over the amazing solution offered by their little grandson. ....

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Turbulence, thy name is Phyan....

“In some places it's known as a tornado. In others, a cyclone. And in still others, the Idiot's Merry-go-round. ”

Someone called Jack Handy is supposed to have said that. Maybe he had an inkling about Cyclone Phyan. Going around.

What was once the outskirts, but is now nicely within city limits, in Pune (my hometown), is a place, inexplicably called Simla Office. Has nothing is common with the northern hill station(Shimla), the Mall Rd and /or apple orchards and British named structures dotting the hilly landscape there.

What this place in Pune is famous for, in India, is for being the office of the Meteorological department (IMD) in Pune.

Throughout all the time I spent in Pune in the early 50's to late 60's, its not as if we didn't have alarming temperatures or rains. But no one really gave predictions from the IMD, and if they did, it always sounded like recycled predictions that often come under astrology, in the papers.

Knowledgeable folks always associated sudden rains etc with some arrangements of constellations as per the Indian Lunar calendar, and took action. The IMD manifested itself as a little column in the newspapers, showing temperatures across the state, in the past 24 hours. Most of the time, things changed slowly anyway, so there was nothing to predict.

Then one grew up and got a world view of things, and saw television weather types, predicting rain and people rearranging weekends , as they took these predictions seriously. The weathermen even made fine predictions in temperature, say, as fall approached, and said things like, "temperature will be in the low something, and having that barbecue on Saturday is not such a good idea" etc etc. And people took it seriously.

Lately, one has been subject to news about cyclones ,tornadoes, and hurricanes, like Katrina, their intensity is graded, and television shots show lines of lines of cars on the freeways, , with people and belongings, making it out of the epicentre of the landfall , and law enforcement folks giving interviews about how stubborn old people wouldn't listen, and didn't want to move etc.

Mumbai was subject to its first cyclone warning(of my lifetime) from Tuesday. Since it was approaching south-southwest from the Arabian Sea, swirling towards Mumbai, appropriate warnings were issued for fisher folk and others who worked in the sea, along the West coast.

With so many predictions gone wrong during this monsoon, the IMD went into detailed overdrive, giving longitudes and latitudes of the approaching menace. specifying huge wind speeds, and got the Disaster management types at the Municipal and State headquarters all hyped up. Offices, schools, and colleges were asked to close by 1 pm. Examinations were postponed. Office bosses suddenly appeared very benevolent. Folks on television made announcements. Several ambitious types had their moments in the sun, or should I say, rain.

What happened ?

Yes, we did have , say 1.5 days of unseasonal rains. The temperature cooled down a bit. As it should be in November, but never is.

My friend has a bunch of birds in her balcony, and they have a lot to say when rain is imminent. A couple of days earlier they were chirping away to glory, Mumbai had a biggish rain Monday night and Tuesday morning. This time they were a bit quiet. And they are never wrong.

But knowing the patterns of unsuccessful prediction from the IMD, my friend and I went out to attend a handicraft exhibition that cyclonic Wednesday afternoon, and enjoyed the lesser crowds. Driving was now a slightly improved experience, in the cool weather, with the rain having washed off clean, all the sins of the potholed road outside, and yes, filled them with water. Children from our building rushed to the grounds to organize a cricket match in the slush. Office goers travelling home in buses had a smile playing on their lips, looking forward to a great cuppa at home with some spicy snacks, eaten , for a change, leaning back, feet up, and relaxed....

Some folks I know, thought that fruits sold at roadside stalls would get cheaper, (having no closed place to protect the fruit), as they would look for buyers , and their hunch was correct. (I was with one of them).

It seems , the Cyclone, now named inexplicably as Cylcone Phyan, simply changed its mind. It simply took a drastic upward left turn, lost much of its energy doing that , and fizzled out in one of our Northern States, which boasts of a desert.

The IMD had predicted "landfall" in the early hours of Thursday. Instead, more than 12 ours early, Wednesday afternoon, when I was inside the exhibition complex, the cyclone kind of whizzed past, with a smattering of rain. Instead of orderly lines of cars going somewhere, we had amazing traffic jams starting Tuesday , with all that 1.5 days rain, water logging, and general cyclone hype. Kind of a farewell scenario, from a monsoon that has eluded Mumbai and the state this year. Coastal and fishing folk had to bear the brunt of the strong winds as the thing changed course in mid ocean.

It seems Phyan, in Burmese , means a cherry that has dropped from a tree. And here I was, wondering whether it was a male or female name, habituated as I was to hearing things like Katrina.

I wonder who decided the names . And why cherries ? What's so significant about a cherry trickling off a tree? No wonder the cyclone turned away.

Maybe they could have given robust names like Cyclone Vyjayantimala, Cyclone Mallika, , Cyclone Deepika, Cyclone Mamta, Cyclone Priyanka, Cyclone Pratibha, or yes, Cyclone Mayawati.

I can see the anti-womens'-reservation-bill folks frothing at the mouth.

So yes, we could have Cyclone Lalu, Cyclone Koda, Cyclone Amar, Cyclone Mulayam , Cyclone Raj, Cyclone Abu and possibly Cyclone Rahul,

I can see a mob gathering in the distance shouting slogans saying it should be Cyclone Chhatrapati Shivaji. And another , agitating to have it named as the Cyclone Rajiv....

But as is usually the case, the politicians know how to milk this for all its benefits.

The newly formed government is having to deal with the recent violence in the House, by the newly elected legislators. There are secret and not so secret pressures at play. There are no immediate answers and solutions and meetings need to end. There needs to be a path out of the political cyclone.

But so desperate are they that the deputy chief minister resorted to this :

There is a possibility of a cyclone as thick clouds have gathered again, threatening heavy rains. It's time we should immediately wind up the functioning to relieve the employees. Vehicles have been deployed to take them home safely.

As they say in cricket, that was an end-of-the-day's-play.

First the stuff with the Tides of the Century. Now this. Why do we need the Indian Meteorological Department ?

( I'd love to know how much their budget is, what the taxpayers finance, and whether we get commensurate returns. I also know a blogger who has recently written a very informative post on Public Interest Litigation.)

I can see the beginnings of head shaking.

Never mind....

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Legislating in the time of Fisticuffs

The opening Day of the Maharashtra State Assembly, yesterday, saw scenes which took me back many many years. About 45 to be precise.

The children in our locality were on their guard against a particular fellow. He didn't like to be crossed, and almost always got his way on the common playing grounds frequented by us. He was kind of big for his age, and a smile would play across his face when he spied someone getting uncomfortable around him. His language was intimidatory, we heard words whose meanings we didn't know and were afraid to ask, and as he got older he associated with what are often described in India as lumpen elements. His speciality was threatening children who cribbed about him in school. A lot of teachers tried but gave up reforming him, hoping he would be forced to leave school, either for his very poor academic performance, or for proof of undesirable activities.

Many such uncontrollable individuals exist across all strata of society today. For many such folks, there has been missing or unwilling parental guidance in their formative years, while the parents were busy pursuing the lustre of the lucre. Intense competition in education and jobs has made for desperate attitudes. We see increasing news reports of grown individuals with children taking illogical drastic decisions in moments of stress, destroying innocent lives. Newspapers are full of seemingly secure individuals writing suicide notes about inability to handle financial problems, and ending their lives. We see youths, enamoured of that which is reflected abnormally in movies, violently attacking anyone who tries to negate their amorous advances, and getting their introduction to jails, police and courthouses.

And the papers are full of folks advising, advertising, and conducting "counselling" and "help lines", now that the root cause is being realized.

I think time has come, to have such facilities for those that wish to represent us in Parliament. Our legislators are badly in need of counselling, and training.

Papers are full of asset declarations of these folks, followed by articles questioning the abnormal rise in some peoples' assets. The government makes a great virtue of asking for these details , and then stuffs that information into its own corrupt archives. No questions asked.

Similar to IAS probationers having orientation camps at the Mussourie Institute, I suggest that the first 3 months of every legislators term be spent in such a place. That they be taught and trained in communication, common courtesies, routine office procedures, legislative rules and behaviour, enlightened management of MPLAD resources with 6 monthly mandatory reporting on the same, and methods of anger management.

Introduce an evaluation at the end of 3 months, and then decide whether to extend the probation or confirm the person as a legislator. These guys get life long pensions for being elected as legislators and attending a complete single duration of the legislature.

I have known of primary school teachers, who served all their careers in far flung villages, who were made to run around for their pensions in their old ages. I have known of capable young folks whose probation was extended because of an insecure boss. And I have known of people whose designations have been blatantly arbitrarily downgraded by authorities, pointing to some arcane rule , while the "authorities" themselves get into a dither and threaten strikes over a slight change in their own designations.

We have no right to expect our children to learn to behave , with leaders such as those observed in action recently, setting such useless examples.

And this is not only an Indian phenomenon.

It has happened, in Taiwan, where someone went on a slapping spree in their Parliament, even Russian Duma legislators eyeballing each other before a sudden facial hit, in Prem Chopra style. It has even happened in the Ukrainian Parliament in the best Bollywood film style, Politicians in Seoul's National Assembly , arguing about a media bill and its passing resort to fighting , while in some legislatures, even Judo finds a place. It has happened in the Alabama, USA Senate, with blows felling suited senators.

Just in case you are shockingly "impressed" with the above, be ready for what is erroneously labeled below as an Indian Parliament fight , but is certainly not so.

But the scene could be played out in any of the state legislatures across the country. (Which it actually is)

Watch this :

World's largest democracy in a free for all ?


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Aray Devaa ! Oi troi phat oi! !

It is a truth universally accepted, that whenever individuals of varied religious persuasions, or even absent religious persuasions have seen or heard something, and been at a loss for comments, . they have shaken their heads, clutched the nearest pillar,lamppost or person, and invoked the name of Someone Up There, and said, "Oh! my God!" their respective tongues.

Today , the world has become smaller, and it is not unknown for someone to be at lunch in India, and be chatting simultaneously with someone having breakfast in the UK, or , an early dinner in Australia, or even a previous day's dinner in California, all at the same time. And I am not even mentioning what people in , say Japan, or Kenya, or South Africa may be up to.

Should you be shocked into a heavenly exclamation while communicating, here's how you say it in various languages:

  1. Afrikaans: O God!
  2. Albanian: O Zot!
  3. Arabic: Ya Allah!
  4. Bahasa Melayu (Malay) Ya tuhanku!
  5. Basque: Jaungoikoa!
  6. Bengali: Oh Allah! (as used in Bangladesh), Hey Bhagoban (as used by Indian Bengalis)
  7. Bosnian: Boze moj!
  8. Bulgarian: Bozhe moi
  9. Catalan: Déu meu!
  10. Celtic: Mo Dhia!
  11. Czech: Pane boze!
  12. Danish: Åh Gud!
  13. Dutch: O, mijn God!
  14. English, Old : Wa min God!
  15. Esperanto: Mia Dio!
  16. Estonian: Oh mu Jumal,
  17. Farsi: Oh! Khodayeh Man!
  18. Finnish: Voi Luoja!
  19. Flemish: Godverdoeme,
  20. German: O mein Gott!
  21. German (Upper Austrian dialect): Hümmi, Orsch und Zwirn!
  22. Greek, Modern The'Mou! Hristo Mou !

  23. Gujarati: Aare Bhaghwan!
  24. Hebrew Oh Ellohim!
  25. Hindi: Hay Bhagwaan!
  26. Hungarian: Jaj Istenem,
  27. Icelandic: Gud minn godur!
  28. Inuktitut (Greenlandic) Åh gootinga!
  29. Irish, Modern Ó mo Dhia!
  30. Italian: Dio mio!
  31. Italian (Trieste dialect) Co dio!
  32. Japanese: ahh, kamisama!
  33. Korean aigo, OtchOna!
  34. Kyrgyz: Oh Kuday!
  35. Latin: Deus Meus!
  36. Latvian: Ak Dievs!
  37. Lithuanian Dieve mano,
  38. Macedonian O, Gospodi!
  39. Malayalam Entey Deiwame
  40. Maltese Alla tieghi,
  41. Maori Aue Te Ariki!
  42. Marathi: Aray Devaa!
  43. Norwegian, New Herregud!
  44. Polish: O Moj Boze
  45. Portuguese: Meu Deus!
  46. Romanian Dumnezeule!
  47. Russian Gospodi!
  48. Sanskrit He mama deva!
  49. Sinhala Ane Deviyane!
  50. Slovenian: Moj Bog!
  51. Spanish: Dios mio!
  52. Swahili: Siyo!
  53. Swedish Oh, Herregud!
  54. Tagalog: Ay Dios ko!
  55. Tamil: Ada kadavule!
  56. Telegu Ore devudo!
  57. Turkish Aman Tanrim;
  58. Urdu Au Mere Allah
  59. Vietnamese: Oi gioi oi! / Oi troi phat oi!/ Chu'a toi oi!
  60. Welsh A Dduw!
  61. Yiddish gotenyu!
The interesting thing is, that if God actually decided to answer , he would probably raise an eyebrow, and ask , "Yes ?".....

In Greek, He would say, "Nai" (Sounds like "n-ae")

In my language, Marathi, it means , NO.

I give up.

Maybe we should leave God out of all this and just look amazed, and say "Well, I never ....."

Now to find how to say that in all these languages......:-)

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Interdisciplinary medical specialities

Aeons ago, when you had a severe cold/sore throat, a concoction of lemongrass, ginger, cumin,cinnamon , ajwain , a "Mendel's paint" swab in the throat (done with a knitting needle), and a decent steaming of your throat, under a towel, held on your head(over boiling water), often did the trick. Not to forget gargling. Some super conscientious folks even forced you to drink hot milk with turmeric, to the intense delight of your siblings.

Sometimes, some of the household solutions were delicious. Diarrhoea often resulted in someone making a wonderful concoction of nutmeg, ginger, ghee, and I think, honey(could be jaggery), all stirred together in an cast iron kadhai. The patient as well as his/her siblings partook of this with great relish, and often hankered for more, till a parental stern look intervened.

Doctors entered the fray only when fevers and stuff happened. And even then it was mostly the family doctor, who you could never fool.

While medical folks of my generation might remember these household solutions (which they swallowed till they got their degree), today's folks are more interested in specializing . Last counted, there were at least 53-60 specialities.

About 50 years ago, one heard basically about G.P.'s , gynaecologists (because they delivered kids), and orthopaedicians (who plastered the relevant fractures when these kids managed to acquire them).

Around 30 years ago, we were suddenly familiar with pediatricians, neurologists, ENT specialists, Ophthalmologists, urologists and so on.

Today, the field is studded with neonatologists, endocrinologists, oncologists, surgeons (of various subspecialities), fertility specialists, gerontologists, internal medicine (physician), cosmetologists, pain specialists, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, pathologists.

And several other things I cannot spell.

What has intrigued me is guys called Intensivists. These guys are supposed to specialize in Critical care medicine, and basically treat people who are in life support situations in ICU's.

In India, this particular speciality takes on a slightly exciting flavour. In keeping with blurring of distinctions between disciplines, and newly favoured interdisciplinary approach to things, it is possible that intensivists may have to take special courses, in ethics, sociology, psychology and political science.

ICU's in India , particularly in public hospitals, keep on standby, one or more VIP ICU beds.

While you and I have to get in line, and god forbid, wait for one, these beds are often patronized by politicians, who have something to hide.

A few decades ago when the government was after the Indian smuggler mafia, it was a routine thing, for one of them to complain about chest pain , uneasiness, and get admitted to the ICU. Particularly of government hospitals. This disallowed police interrogation, till the doctors agreed. It also gave decent security to the hounded man, and his minions periodically came by and his business continued unabated through the hospital corridors.

Recently, there was a case of a leading elderly politician, head honcho of an industrial and educational empire, who had also periodically bumped off his election opponents in a casual manner, supremely confident that no one could touch him. Greatly successful at organizing crowds in his own support even when an accused, when things got too dicey, he complained of chest pain, uneasiness, and got himself into an ICU. And the speed of investigations suddenly fizzled out.

Within this week itself, a politician, ex Chief Minister from the north who was being investigated for embezzling an amount ( that would have , if allocated, changed the face & fate of the peoples of certain agrarian parts of India), suddenly complained of abdominal pain, giddiness, nausea, and vomiting. He was promptly admitted into the ICU of the local hospital, where investigative reports are taking their own time coming in.

Politicians are getting smarter. While chest pain would always have you wired up for an ECG , which cannot lie, abdominal pain is a masterpiece. You can claim it at will. It can happen. it can stop. You can't be electronically diagnosed in real time with this. With all the indiscriminate imbibing of edible and monetary goodies, existence of gas suitably obscures ultrasonic images. Suits you admirably. There are so many causes for it. Currently, the patient is off all investigative enquiries of the non-medical type. And the doctors are "watching" the patient.

Intensivists who have to deal with such entities, must get extra training in linguistics, psychology, recreational political thought and dramatics.

"You are fine" may imply (a) "Your BP is 120/80", or (b) " We've fobbed off the journalists/police/investigators for a week". In addition, the intensivist may be an expert at hiding his real emotions on initially examining the eminent patient on admission. An ability to make a variety of worried and serious faces would help. Inventing hospital rules that disallow outside security, would get him a huge stamp of approval from the eminent patient.

We might define a new name for this speciality. Intensive Escapology.

Which brings to mind some other escape efforts.

Papers are often replete with stories about people, predominantly Nigerians, being arrested and taken to hospital for trying to smuggle high value narcotics in various places in their bodies. Some desperate types even swallow the stuff , packaging and all, when faced by the police. They are then admitted to hospitals, scanned for movement of the stuff , and treated for outputting the same, through all possible body apertures. I have never heard of anyone quickly operating on the chaps to retrieve the drugs. I wonder why.

But maybe, we need to define another super speciality. Guys who watch the crooks' alimentary canal, and the stuff bobbing down through it, driven by reluctant peristalsis, all the way down, or up, as the case may be.

Great investigative medicine. Doesn't need an ICU. Just a keen eye, and detective proclivities.

AlimentaryMyDearWatson-itis ?

Maybe Sherlock Holmes would approve...