Sunday, October 31, 2010

Unplanned encounters


Mumbai, India's commercial capital, often referred to as "Amchi Mumbai (our Mumbai)" as a concession to the original language (Marathi) of the inhabitants, currently teems with about 21 million folks. It's as if the whole of India keeps streaming into the city, looking for the promised job in the promised land, except no one knows who has been doing the promising.

One of the "benefits" of being such a melting pot of all things Indian , is that one is able to sample a large variety of cuisines in Mumbai .

And I am not even including Italian, Mexican, Lebanese, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Arabic or even Mcdonalds.

Within India itself, we have Maharashtrian, Gujarati, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malwani, Udipi, Marwari, Kerala, Chettinad, Hyderabadi, Awadhi, Banarsi, Mughlai, Punjabi, Bengali, and several unique cuisines that that one cannot categorize, but are greatly delicious.

The suburb of Vile Parle (east) may have a name that sounds a bit French, but isn't that way at all. Don't know about the "Vile" part but "Parle" comes from the original village of Palda that existed in the old days. This is where my husband's ancestors stayed when the place was sparsely populated and dotted with old bungalows with wells and stuff on the premises. There were a lot of fields , like tomato fields , in the area, and westwards , one had to traverse through barren swampy area to reach the ocean. For some reason, middle class Maharashtrians , specifically in the "Pune mould" gravitated to this suburb of Mumbai over the years, as the island city became pricey. (I often suspect that the Scots are the Pune types of Britain; that should make things clear :-)....or maybe think of how you can always recognize a New England Ivy League type in , say, Texas.).

And so amidst all the cuisines existing cheek by chewing jowl, one also started noticing places serving pucca Maharashtrian cuisine , more so in Vile Parle. One such, that we visited today, was called "Me Marathi".

The food is very traditional, comfort food style, served simply, quickly, and many old favourites of my childhood were there on the menu. I was totally delighted to notice something there , called "Mow Bhat and Metkut" ( soft, semi liquidy cooked plain rice with a spoonful of golden ghee and a mixture of roasted spiced pulses powder), which was something that we simply enjoyed as kids, and often had when we were sick.

We had just ordered , and were wondering whether we were a bit early for a Sunday lunch, when I noticed a lady in a sari walk in with her kids, and just when I was about to look away, I suddenly realized, that someone I knew had walked in. Surprised grins, wide eyes, and both families trying to figure out why two folks were so delighted to meet .

It was Harekrishnaji, one of the founder members of our blogger lunches, and an authority on all the eating places in Mumbai and Pune . 21 million inhabitants, probably 6000 restaurants , 24 hours of the day, 7 days in the week, and we both end up , at the same place in Mumbai, with family, within 5 minutes of each other, on a Sunday before Divali !

I must hasten to add that his family was in Mumbai for the Divali holidays, he has often arrived at our blogger lunches, complete with luggage and bus tickets en route to his home, 200 kilometres away, and once even called us from his residence ,at the lunch when he was unable to come. I think in most families of older bloggers, blogging is tolerated as a kind of harmless evil. Nobody in the family really reads the blogs. And everyone pretends to act indulgent, and gets back to the interesting cricket match on TV.

But this was different ! Everyone was so friendly, and I was naturally thrilled to know that one of his kids was attending my alma mater, and my parent's alma mater in Pune ! His missus has been the subject of his blog many times, whenever it had to do with mouthwatering stuff cooked at home, saree exhibitions, and the family going on a drive somewhere. It was as if I had already met her.

Naturally, I had to have photos of this amazing and sudden meeting. Both of us staying almost 20 kilometres and more from this place, but in opposite directions, with totally different traffic densities, and here we walk in, unplanned , 5 minutes of each other, and occupy adjoining tables.

A few pictures were taken dodging waiters attending the now filling restaurant, though one carrying masala buttermilk did manage to walk across at the wrong moment.

We had to leave a bit early, and so we got up to go. Wished his family, and Harekrishnaji came out , to see us off. I took a photograph of him, just outside the board advertising the specialities of the place.....

I just remembered something.

The last time someone from our blog-lunch group suddenly sighted Harekrishnaji like this, as a complete surprise, the person in question succeeded in completing a half marathon, with renewed vigor, within the next few kilometres.......

While I am not planning on running (don't want to create additional potholes on roads), I don't mind letting on, that my return journey , which actually takes anywhere up to 45 minutes actually got done in 25 minutes today......

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Getting things straight......

In this age of high mobility, faster career advancements and virtual travel, this is probably a stupid question to ask. But what kind of feeling or sense would you have developed if you lived in the same place, for say 60 years ? And more ? ......

You would know most of the people residing in your area, you would remember their families, and lets say, quirks and /or outstanding features of certain family members. You would know which parts of your area are more susceptible to seasonal variations and changes; you would certainly remember new constructions happening in places, now being considered important. There would be a sense of holding memories amidst the community that you lived in.

All this kind of "lit up" my mind , recently, when it occurred to me that the same would hold true for our bodies. I mean, just think. A large variety of useful organ members, residing and growing in the same area for , in my case, 60 years and counting. Some doing well physically, some undecided, some clearly on the way down, and some showing the sort of wear and tear that you see in crumbling walls, that still stand tall by sheer virtue of the goodwill coming from neighbors and the environment. This of course assumes that all these entities have a mind of their own.

And I was most delighted to discover that our body does not function autocratically under the dictatorship of the cranial brain . There is a sense of thinking, a sense of mind, a sense of "having its own mind" , in our abdomen. Its called the abdominal brain. Remember butterflies in the stomach, rushing to the loo in a stressful situation, losing appetite on hearing something terrible ?

In the highest traditions of management practices, there is delegation of work in our bodies, and there is more than one type nervous system in our body. The systems that allow brain messaging to enable us to recognize someone we have met before, are different from those that enable us to shout and instantly yank back our hands on unknowingly touching a hot griddle smeared with smoking oil. Lets not get carried away by names and titles of these things.

I have a firm belief , possibly yet to be investigated and ratified by, say, the NIH in Washington, that all our organs in the body are NOT just a chemical mass (like our potholed roads outside) , but have a mind, that listens, stores, reacts, and sometimes changes things.

In his late seventies, my father was diagnosed with a herniated disc/discs. At one point he couldn't even sit, and had to eat in a supine position, so painful was any movement. As a firm yoga practitioner since his childhood, he immediately rubbished things like surgery, and after initial analgesic doses of allopathy taken unwillingly, he started on a slow exercise regimen. He would often tell me, that one had to visualize in one's mind, that this situation would heal, that one would be active as before again, and he had a childlike adamant attitude about getting the best of this affliction , which he had to defeat. HE DID. Physiology is difficult to change at that age. The mind is not. And I think, somewhere, his spine and vertebrae sensed the strength of the thinking.

I have personal experience of suffering a particular problem which kept going from bad to worse over almost 25 years. All kinds of tests and pathological exams indicated no organic problem. Surgery and removal was a solution, but not something that appealed, because nothing was diseased, per se. Things reached epic proportions at a time when I was beset with many many difficult family responsibilities and it came to a point when energy, intense anemia, and movement became a worrisome issue. Ten years earlier, surgery had been a solution, I was younger, but I had refused, being a firm believer in the fact that if you had a worrisome child, you worked with him to improve, rather than give up on him and ignore him; and of course, each child was different, but got an equal chance.

I often visualized what was happening in the body, how surgery would traumatise the innards, what needed to happen etc. My doctor , who had advised me earlier and knew my family system, physiology and thinking, now convinced me to go in for surgery. I finally agreed and consulted the surgeon. She fixed a date , and asked me to get the preliminary checks up and stuff done. She then asked , since I had waited so long and tried so many meds, if I would be willing to try a specific regimen of a medicine which I had tried earlier, several times, but which was being newly marketed now. I agreed.

I couldn't believe it, when my problem , chronic over 25 years, simply disappeared , just like that, once I took that medicine as directed. One day it was there, and it simply disappeared. And has remained so 10 years down the line. Just like that. I like to think that certain parts of my physiology, were aware of my thinking, my empathy and respect for the anatomy, and the wild behaviour kind of ceased, when the body sensed that I had unimaginable stresses coming up, and this was the time to put their hand up, be counted, and help. The concerned organ probably had nightmares of being cut up in surgery ,and removed, and kind of gave up its willful behaviour. My doctor thinks this whole thing is amazing. But also believes in the power of "visualization".

I know folks who had intense intestinal digestive problems after some unavoidable treatments. An elderly gent has explained to me how he actually "conversed" with his intestines in his mind, cajoling them to be co-operative. He would do that several times a day, while carrying on with his meds and treatments. I guess his intestines listened. I mean we may be globalizing but his intestines behaved in traditional Indian style, listening and respecting elders.

20 years ago, two acquaintances, closely related to each other, both detected with cancer at the same time, in a chance check up. Both were in decent health, and in control of their bodies, as such. One of them insisted, he wouldn't agree to any surgery/chemo/treatments, because, he had a great belief in his health situation, and would face whatever, whenever. The other person, simply agreed to undergo radical surgery followed by assorted chemo and radiation treatment.

Both did fine for many years. Today, the one who did surgery, is no more after facing an uncontrolled spread of the Big C, and several drastic last minute treatments. The other person, continues to live, now afflicted , simply by intense old age. May be he had stronger thoughts throughout. Maybe he lived in resonance with his body. Maybe he infused his physiological set up with those thoughts. Which is not to run down proper cancer treatments. But it tells you the power of your mind.

In our childhood, we often heard folks shout at us, whenever we didn't appear to be sitting or standing straight. I remember being asked to stand against a wall, and remember the straightness of the spine, and to hold it that way. Particularly in the pubertal years, one often heard "Don't slouch", " Keep your spine straight", " Shoulders back"...... and someone would even poke you in the back if it looked like you were sliding into a slouch.

A few days ago, the potato basket in my kitchen accidentally overturned and the stuff went all over the floor. In an effort at stopping things from rolling under cupboards and stuff, I hastened to bend , probably in a completely unrecommended manner, particularly for people my age. I paid the price. Excruciating pain while straightening to stand up, inability to stand for a longish length of time, and wild applications of ointments resulting in aromas of methyl salicylate pervading in a season where sandalwood, camphor, and jasmines and roses would be the norm.

XRays happened. The doctors says that my spine, which should have been in a graceful "S" shape, has tended to straighten out.(!) Its more like a mathematical "integration" sign now. And the muscles of the back, are pushing themselves to the limit, trying to support the whole thing, causing my stiff and painful back. I hear words like Lordosis. Sounds royal. :-) And Kyphosis . Sounds terrible :-(.....

But I am convinced, that years of listening to folks shout at me about keeping my back straight, must have trained the vertebrae and the spine. Like me, they must be harking back to the old days. They probably remember . They also probably realize how incredibly stupid I have been in bending inappropriately for the potatoes. Those who don't listen are often taught a lesson.

I guess, I am getting mine now.....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Good Over Bad : It works !

Winner of the Blogadda "Good over Bad" Contest : Nov 12, 2010

Two score and ten years ago. A cool Shravan evening in Pune, at the foothills of the Parvati temple. Shravan (in August) , the 5th month of the Indian calendar is home to a time of festivities.

There would be a fair like atmosphere on the steps leading to the temple on the hill top. And we always accompanied our folks there, given that there were so many things to enjoy. And sometimes ache for ....Temporary tattoos on arms, paintings on the forehead, colorful bangles, tiklis, dolls, marbles, shell necklaces, roasted channa, ..... There was even a guy selling homemade (from tree branches) slings for boys. Many folks came in from the surrounding areas to do quick business with merchandise, home arts, toys, etc.

That evening , there was a commotion, and we suddenly saw a man bearing down on a child, about to thrash him. The boy had some one's footwear in his hand, and was trying to move away with it. (There is an old temple at the foot of the hill, and one left one's footwear outside while worshipping. ).

Madhu was the little boy. His mother sold flowers on the steps of the hill, a younger child lying in her lap. This fellow played around every day, and had got into bad company, and stealing footwear was the new attraction. There was a commotion as people gathered, and his mother, came tearing in, to face the angry man. She then proceeded to thrash the son herself.

My mother stopped her. A calm hand on the shoulder does wonders for the ebbing of anger, and she returned to her flower stall, which her neighbor chap was minding in the meanwhile.

Turned out that Madhu's father was bedridden and sick. They had moved from their village to Pune looking for work, and the mother had found this flower selling thing to start with. Madhu gallivanted around till it was time to go home.

I could see my mother having a talk with Madhu. First he was wary, then suspicious, and then he took a relieved breath and smiled. She wasn't going to turn him in. But there were conditions. Every evening he was going to sit outside the temple, and look after people's footwear for 1-2 paisa . ( In those days 2 paisa could get you a lot of stuff, such as a half serving of delicious bhel , a popular snack). But he was to turn over his daily earnings to his mother. While he sat, he would wipe the pairs with a some cloths that my mother would give him every week. My mother was a regular hill temple goer for almost 4o years, and he would see her everyday, in those days. Occasionally, my mother would stop by at his mother's flower stall. For those of us who had relatively safe , secure, uneventful childhoods, this was a Life Lesson.

At first his friends made fun of him. But he had a very enlightened mother. who could see why this was a good thing. By and by , the festival season got over, crowds reduced, but Madhu became a fixture at the foothill temple. A few years later, my parents helped him go to school, and paid for his books and fees, provided , of course, that he showed them his report card. Things were so different then, education was not an "industry" (unlike now), schools and teachers were simple , sincere, and strict. If the child was straying, they came home to discuss it with the parents. Somewhere in between , his father passed away, and Madhu grew up and became the man of the house overnight.

Today, he works in a printing press, where he joined as an apprentice soon after school. He learned to save as a child, and never forgot that. He and his family and his mother still live at the foothills, where they now have a small pucca 2 room place, thanks to the real estate development in their area using their small piece of land.

Long after we all grew up and went our ways, he and his mother would occasionally drop in to see my mother, in her seventies. The flower shop was no longer there, but his mother prepared tiffins on order now. Something she could do from home. But she would always bring wonderful flowers for my mother, which my mother would offer to the family Gods.

Today, my parents and Madhu's are no more. Geographical distances do not allow us frequent trips. Madhu himself is in his fifties now.

But this story remains etched in my mind. Of how something bad, needs to be addressed, looked at in empathy, and an innovative mind applied to it. No one is bad, but circumstances make them so. Shakespeare had a fancy way of saying that.

I like to think, that many times, something bad has to happen for something good to emerge from it.

And we need to get involved, whenever possible. Not because the festival says so, not because we are celebrating a special week, and not because it looks nice on your CV. Sorry to sound cynical , but that has happened.

We often think the world is binary.

Its all about being 0=bad and 1=good.

But what's real, is the difficult but dedicated trudge along those dicey fractions that convert a zero to a one.

Submitted for the Good Over Bad Contest at

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's your culture ?

Culture, is not a cake, where you measure the ingredients, treat them in specific dynamic ways, apply the requisite heat for a longish time, and then expect to always get the same result. There is no beginning and end, but there is an existence and fine tuning of the culture. And most of all there is a give and take, that enriches.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is recently reported to have announced to her countrymen, that, her country's efforts at becoming a multicultural society , had failed. And she then attributed that to the refusal of the (primarily Turkish) immigrant workforce to learn German, and fit in with the German Christian way of life.

On the other hand , Bengaluru (Bangalore to you uncultured types :-) ), currently groaning under the onslaught of folks from across the country and the world, (thanks to being a great IT and industrial hub) , seems to taking on a cosmopolitan multicultural hue, and there are local son -Booker Prize winners , exhorting the natives, to clutch close their language and ethos and save it from the external culture attack .

Actually, if you think about it, Europe is a bit like India. A federation of areas, organized almost linguistically. French, German, Italian, Spanish.... Some economically very good. Some not so good. Others borderline. Europeans can travel freely through the set of countries, seamlessly passing through border check posts. Languages overlap at these places. Economies probably don't. The various countries have attitudes. On family. Religion. Importance of money. Attitude towards children. Rules. Government interference. Etc Etc. Northwards in Europe, things are a bit conservative. Southwards, things get a bit easy, sometimes chaotic. People often look a bit different. Things are more "kinder-freundlich" .

All a bit like India. (Of course we are totally kinder-freundlich....across the country). Linguistically organized states. Some poor-cousin states. Some trying to match Shanghai :-) . Yes, we can travel freely through these states. Unlike Europe, we boast of languages and dialects in double digits, often with confusing scripts and random root language sources. But there is one huge difference. We have a large amount of religions being followed here, and no state has a monopoly on a given religion. Not because someone made a rule about it, but because , throughout history, folks of various religions have settled across India, and made their lives there. We now (1950) have a constitution that upholds secularism, but we didn't need a rule to teach people that. Yes, sometimes, events and subsequent trauma has caused communities to shift geographically. Sometimes, economics and opportunities have caused these shifts.

And so I wonder, can culture be implemented by order a la Frau Merkel ? Can it be installed by brow beating folks a la the various Senas ? How much attention do we attach to sloganeering masses ? Specific religion centric rules ? Codes of dress ? Gender specific laws ? Vote garnering subsidies ?

Where does culture actually start ?

In the family ?

3 stories.

A family friend's daughter , a Hindu, and her Business School classmate , a Moslem, wanted to get married. The families lived in different metro cities. Both the children were very close to their respective extended families. But a grandparent was there in only one of the families. The girl's. The parents wanted only happiness for the kids. The boy's father and uncles, came to visit the girl's family. The meeting was very cordial.

But what stayed in the minds of all, was the fact, that in a small living room (as Mumbai houses tend to have), the boy's uncles refused to sit on chairs, and sat cross legged on the carpet, out of respect for the girl's grandmother in her late eighties, seated on the divan, who had come especially to meet them. That's culture.

Today, the relatives speak of the girl returning to her folks for her first delivery as per tradition, and her ma-in-law, a Moslem, coming on several visits subsequently to visit her at her maternal abode, play with the grandson, and finally taking her daughter-in-law home with great pomp and celebration.

Sometimes you make friends with folks totally out of the blue. We have such a friend in Goa, who we met in 1975. Belongs to one of Goa's well known staunch Catholic families, with a surname having lots of prepositions and Latin names and hyphens. With one of those wonderful rambling old houses, with a personalised chapel, wine cellars , massive old kitchens churning out lip smacking stuff. As was customary in her young days, , she had gone to Portugal, and was fluent in Portuguese. But as was also customary, she started working early, which took her around India meeting interesting and well known folks. She decided to get married to a Hindu gentleman from Bengal.

While there wasn't too much of a hue and cry from his side, she did tell me with a laugh later on, that after their initial shock and disappointment , when she explained to her parents, they were pleased that the person she was marrying was at least a Brahmin ! Turns out , that fine distinctions, a la caste system, still exist in Catholic Goan society. A Brahminical way of thinking. They were married for many years, both doted upon by the respective in laws, till the husband passed away. She remains an honored respected member of her husband's Bengali extended family at all the religious and cultural family functions.

That is culture . Not the nitpicking in the name of religion, language and color.

And finally, here is an international story Frau Merkel might learn from.

40 years ago, I did grad school in the US and my very first apartment roommate and I have been in touch through all these years. We knew each other's extended families, from the old days, and although we couldn't meet physically very often, we made up for that in our long newsy emails, and confidences .

Her parents lived well into their late nineties, greatly cared for by their daughters. Long hospitalizations, the impending trauma of a loss, how to deal with it, was something she would write to me, and we found out, that both our religions, actually upheld the same kind of teachings; family responsibilities, the honor in being the primary caretaker of a loved one, the thought that in our minds, the person doesn't go away (and never mind all those arguments about reincarnations etc). A few months after her father passed away, I underwent a very traumatic event of suddenly losing my mother over a few hours. It took a long time to come to terms with things. Of course the "inclusive" nature of family mourning in India helped, but one struggled with oneself, and in anger at what had happened. My friend and I were in touch, and we communicated a lot by email.

One fine day, I received an envelope by airmail. It was a card announcing a memorial Mass, in honor of my mother, being held by my friend and her children, at her church, presided over by her pastor. Of course, by the time the card reached me (12 days) , the event had already happened at the church 12,000 miles away. I was totally stunned. And immensely honored . Here was a mass being held, by a close friend, who understood what the loss was, and tried to handle it the way she thought best for me. By Prayer. Something she believed in.

My late mother was an enlightened Hindu religious lady, who was once a trustee (the first and till date the only woman trustee) of one of the most famous temples in Pune). She enjoyed attending and presiding over the beautiful pujas and celebrations, , but she also taught us to be respectful of other religions and their rituals. This was a family belief, passed down through generations, and she was very strict about this.

Somewhere Up There, I can see her nodding her head , eyes full, at what her daughter and her friend had been up to. She must have been present in spirit at that Mass.

I guess we will never learn . It isn't about power, rigid rules, disrespect and inhuman behaviour .

Culture is how we were brought up. And how we plan to bring up our children.

The boundary conditions may have changed, but the rules of decent behaviour remain the same....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Madness in November.....

The last time I was published, was 50 years ago.

By the Children's Section of a newspaper from Kolhapur, in the plains of Maharashtra. It was a poem, where the rhyming was perfect.

By and by, poetry changed, and publishing changed. You didnt need to always rhyme. And the advent of the 21st centrury saw the entry of electrons into publishing.

Sometime in August 2010, a few hours before their deadline, I came across this item about a group that called themselves Madness Mandali (mandali = group), and they were planning to come out with a Visual Poetry book.

You could send in your entr(y/ies), and they would select a total of 33 poets and 33 artists. Artists would be allocated/allowed to choose a poem, and would submit their interpretations, and voila ! a book would happen !

500 confident types sent in stuff. The Mandalis entrusted the poetry selection to English faculty in one of Mumbai's oldest colleges.

September brought some good news, a poem of mine got selected. A wonderful lady called Sonal , who I have yet to meet (face to face), illustrated it.

And then the Mandalis started sending FB messages. "Think of a title for the book !" "Do a blog post to promote the book !" "We got ourselves a domain ! Link! " "Design posters about the book !" ; and then in fine print they said the link would go to their blog page till someone designed a webpage for them, free, of course.

Well, the impossible has often happened. ( I am not mentioning the CommonWealth Games) .

I am thinking of a title, but at 60 its difficult to come up with "rocking" stuff, unless it's your chair.

I just did this post.

I am sure some cool artistic folks are doing a Madness Mandali webpage out of the goodness of their hearts.

In the meanwhile, if you leave aside the late editor from Kolhapur, my late parents, and some of my friends who are bombarded with personalized poems when something good happens to them, or they post great pictures on their blogs, I can see, that there may exist folks, who raise a quizzical eyebrow, go into a crooked smile, snort, and give me a look that says , "Poet, eh ?"....

All I can say, is that old structures often get a new life after 50 years. They call these Golden.

And all you cynical types can have a look here .....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Driven men.....

This post highlighted by Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?

Sometimes it isn't clear whether we are progressing or regressing.

News papers and TV channels are going ga-ga over the town of Aurangabad in Maharashtra.

Hitherto known for the world famous frescoes at the Ajanta and Ellora caves, a Unesco Heritage Site, dating back to the 2nd century BC , the town now has a new claim to fame.

Young entrepreneurs, industrialists, professionals, and in general, folks with lots of money to spare, recently negotiated a deal with Mercedes Benz in Germany, and did a "co-operative buying" of 150 Mercedes Benz cars. Which were delivered yesterday , and the Regional Transport Office , thrilled to bits with the opportunities to hobnob with the names that count, has promised to immediately fast forward the registration of the said cars.

My experience with co-operative buying efforts, has been restricted to two things.

One time back in the late eighties, when we decided to be part of a co-operative housing society , in our hometown; but mostly because at that time we were eligible for a housing loan , which tended to convert dreams into reality.

The second effort, was by a bunch of us ladies, who traveled one morning to the nearby Agricultural Produce Wholesale Market across the creek, and came loaded back with vast quantities of fruit and vegetables, bought at amazing prices, which we then distributed at cost price, to those who had signed up but were too lazy to travel with us.

The first effort was predictably riddled with lots of paperwork, and proving that you were not , basically, a crook, in the eyes of the government. The bank took 21 days to do a telegraphic money transfer of the funds, the final installment, across 200 kilometres, making me wonder if I should have simply put it all in a bag and run with it, even allowing for refreshment breaks and so on.

The second effort saddled us with large quantities of certain fruits and vegetables, but eventually tested our creativity in using and preserving the stuff.

Times have certainly changed.

150 highly moneyed, amazingly solvent folks from Aurangabad, actually did a deal with Mercedes Benz in Germany, and got the cars, in a batch, at what my late mother would have called "wholesale rates", even then, quoted at 60,00000 - 70,00000 Rupees each.

The new owners, when asked, clarify, that "Aurangabad is generally known as an industrial or tourism-oriented place. Now, this shows the spirit of Aurangabad where 150 people have come together to take the Merc. This shows the unity, the bonding we young entrepreneurs have in Aurangabad"........

The cost of each car is the cost of a decent 2 bedroom apartment in Mumbai today, and counting. Those who work in Mumbai, now commute from places further and further away, because the cost of staying in the suburbs is prohibitively high. Yes, Mumbai has opportunities, but housing is a disastrous situation.

I wonder, how many of these Aurangabad folks are scions of already well established media and industrial barons. How many have made education an industry raking in huge profits, and how many are politicians or related to some.

It is rumoured that the leader of this set, has a sticker on his Mercedes that says , "My other car is a Nano" (the cheap family car marketed by Tata's for people like you and me).....

I wonder if 150 of them would show such bonding if the project was to contribute to a project for drinking water for far flung villages, or building schoolrooms, for schools in remote villages, that exist on paper only. I wonder if bunch of these worthies ever thought of contributing towards say, building a bridge across a local river, to ease the woes of those travelling large distances to study and work. I wonder if such requests would be met with deals requiring you to name the bridge or scheme after some ancestor of theirs , or some political benefactor .

Agreed, the government should be initiating these projects and it is continually involved, , but then you need to be in a queue and wait for your turn to be funded and hope for the best. Like ordinary people stand in queues for life-essentials......

But this is a different generation.

They have grown up , if not in the lap, then at least, holding the hands of Luxury, seen power and what it can do, and have never had to suffer for lack of anything.

Those who were adults in the middle of the 20th century, had immensely respected role models, many of them folks who fought for the country's freedom, and many others who were real philanthropist's. A lot of these folks are today in the sunset of their lives, almost on the horizon, and nobody consults them.

And so the Managing Director of Mercedes Benz is in Aurangabad, to deliver the shipment, to all these worthies, who will now figure in some book of records , and put their city on some kind of map. The marketing guy of the company will probably get a nice promotion. There will be write ups, parties, photos, possibly some sour faces .

A few folks will take inspiration from this, and form their own co-operatives , to buy even more fancy cars, and never mind if the roads are bad.

I wish at least some of them had studied some history.

When the British ruled India, and Bombay was taking its place in the scheme of things, the main island city and the region of Salcete (Bandra etc) was separated by a swampy area. This made travel between the islands very difficult.

Somewhere between 1841-1846 a request to connect the two was shot down by the British government, who didn't think it fitted in with their spending and development plans.

And so a Parsi (Zoroastrian) philanthropist and native of Mumbai , Lady Avabai Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, wife of the first Baronet Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, donated the entire amount, of Rs 1,57,000 that it cost then, to build the causeway. That too, with the stipulation that no toll would be charged for the usage of this from the citizens of Mumbai.

The causeway , built in 1845, bears her name today.

I dont know what kind of cars they had in those days. Mercedes Benz started in 1890. No one really knows if the Jeejeebhoys and/or their descendants drove these. I dont think anyone wants to know either.

Their public benefactions are so well documented, and so huge, no one really cares what cars they were chaufeurred in.

This is the age of private personal benefaction, the age of doing good for a quid pro quid.

Coming up, Mukesh Ambani's ( scheduled to be the richest in the world in 2014 according to Forbes) single family 45 storey home, in the island city......he is expected to move in shortly.

Returning to earth with a thud.

My household help S. has been complaining about the rise in bus fares, from Rs 3 a trip to Rs 5 a trip. She needs to take a trip daily to one of the places she works at, and is seriously thinking of walking one way . .........

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Gangubai learns to lose......

(Submitted for the Blogadda "Sporting memories" contest)

Half a century ago , I was ten years old.

And I distinctly remember weekday mornings. 30 Suryanamaskars and 300 jumps , the norm, was the pre-requisite for breakfast. The Sanskrit shlokas with the namaskars mentioned 12 different names of Surya, to be pronounced with 12 namaskars, but we were never able to convince anyone about why we needed to bunk the remaining 18. And so 30 it was.

My folks encouraged, nay, forced us, to participate in all sports at school, and summer holidays were dedicated to picking up useful things like swimming. This involved alarming things like throwing us in deep water once we had the rudimentary strokes in hand., and any kind of sissie behaviour was dutifully reported at home by the brothers.

So it was with a great sense of wonder that I approached the very civilized game of badminton.

Those were days when wooden rackets were making way for some slim-stem type metal rackets. I played with the existing wooden variety we had at home. We had zilch knowledge of "makes" and "names", and we used to think that squash rackets were made when material was not enough for badminton rackets. We ensured the shuttlecocks lasted a longish time, and used them over and over again.

In those days, there were few well meaning souls who ran training set-ups for children, and I was duly enrolled in one. Three times a week, evenings, regardless of the weather, amount of homework, visiting cousins or similar things, I would cycle a couple of miles to the PYC courts , where you could reserve courts by the hour. We had 2 hours.

There were a total of two courts, which were used very imaginatively by our coach. He gave us individual practice, doubles practice, backhand practice, tossing, drop shots , and every session also had us playing actual games, so we learnt about the game itself and how you faced an opponent.

Once the coach thought you were worth further training, he asked you , to get stitched, what was then called , a short "divided" skirt. (There was no concept of being fitted out in fancy sports apparel even before you hit the first shot of your badminton-life. Your folks spent the money only if the coach indicated so) .

We felt very glamorous after that, although wearing these short skirts outside in public was considered an outrageous thing to do.

So we would wear these skirts inside, then a voluminous long skirt over it, and cycle over, a vision in 2 tight pigtails, with an abnormally flared skirt, manoevering in the road traffic, with a racket stuck on the rear rack of the bicycle. Rucksacks etc weren't even available or in fashion then, and we would simply carry stuff in anything that , say , had a zippered top. The highlight of the session , was drinking cool water from a matka kept in a corner of the premises, after a rough and tiring sweaty game.

My most amazing memory of those days is of practicing for what were to be the State Junior Tournaments, which were to be held in Pune. By then I had played for my school, and won. My coach had had some words with my folks, who seemed to look at me in a different light. The practice hours now were more, I practiced for the doubles with another girl, and our coach always tried to have senior players as opponents for us, just in case we got complacent.


Two days before the D-day, I raised my arm to hit a deep toss, and wonder of wonders , the top part of my racket flew along with the shuttlecock across the net.

Bereft is a very mild word to describe how I felt then. My first thought was that someone was going to shout at me for this. It ranked way up there with losing compass boxes, pens, gold earrings , books etc at school.

Those weren't the days of telephones or cell phones, and so my coach came home to meet the folks. I then learnt what "prioritizing " was all about. My coach, mother and I , left to go to the best sports shop , and a brand new racket was ordered for me , which I would get "gutted" the next day. No one shouted, glared at me , or made faces at me behind my mothers back. Folks actually felt bad. And I felt terribly important .

To cut the story short, I participated in the Junior State levels. Preened like mad when the umpire would announce stuff like "On my left, so and so", before the game. Almost felt like bowing, but didn't.

I won my initial rounds, and the semi final was what is described today as a nail biting finish, that went to 3 games. They even gave you shuttles to test for speed and you could choose. No one had given me so much power before, and so I felt particularly thrilled rejecting shuttles , just like that.

Then came the final.

The opponent was a powerful, confident , well built girl from Mumbai, whose entire family had come down. ("Minoti, if you are reading this, Hi!"). They were all very westernized, wore lipstick, and the sort of clothes you saw in western magazines, were often seen drinking orange squash, and we'd often feel unnecessarily overcome by all that.

Of course, the final match was wonderful. Lots of cheering and shouting from both sides. Some who made fun of me in the coaching class were there, and actually hoarsely cheering for me......

It wasn't a David and Goliath thing, but more of a "Aishwarya Rai meets Gangubai" thing and Gangubai was enjoying it all. There were good shots, wonderful returns, unmeant fake apologies across the net, slipping on the floor, beads of perspiration, the works. And it went to best of 3.

Till I lost the last game.

No one had taught me how to lose. Cheerfully and Bravely.

I sat on the sidelines, wrapped in a sweater. It was hot, but that's what you were supposed to do. Those were not the days of specialized shoes, matching tracksuits and wind breakers. No monogrammed towels. I had my friends around me.

My coach came up, smiled, patted me on the back, and said to get organized as they would announce the runners-up trophy next.

I don't know what happened, but suddenly , the tears started. My throat got full. Which was nice since it precluded me from crying in the usual highly audible siren style.

The more my friends held my shoulders, the more I cried. My shoulders shook. My folks sitting in the audience, gave me encouraging nods, and imperceptible nods to urge me to stop the crying. My opponent's folks shook their heads, and looked at me in a way that implied that they had been through all this stuff earlier themselves.

My name was announced. I went up, blowing my nose, rubbing my eyes, and clutching my sweater around me. I think the chief guest was some tough looking mustachioed army type, of high rank.

No, I didn't salute.

Instead he gave me my trophy and certificate. Put a firm hand on my shoulder, and said,

" Young lady, you win some. You lose some. What matters is how you tried. Well played !".

They then did a photograph of both the players with the chief guest.

I played for many years after that, at the school and college level. Lost track of the tournaments and games. Took things in my stride.

But this has been my most abiding sporting memory , as it taught me how life is never always about winning. It is almost always , about , looking back, learning, being grateful, taking a deep breath , and moving on......

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Sunday, October 10, 2010



We consciously wish, work, and slog for some, achieve them and celebrate. And start on a new dream. Again.

The real interesting ones are those that happen we are asleep.

Actually, there is a particular sleep situation when these happen. Its not what you have when you are in deep sleep, totally relaxed in body, when your body is kind of in a low energy "standby" mode. It seems dreams happen when you are in what is called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.

While this is is no way related to fluttering your eyelashes, turns out that in REM sleep, certain parts of your brain are actively consolidating memories in a fairly active energy situation; there are no impulses falling on your retina (eyes) because your eyes are closed, but the visual pathways linking the eyes to the brain are all alight in activity, and we call them dreams.

When I was a child, my grandmother downstairs, would gather all us cousins together after dinner, and tell us stories from the scriptures. I would often visualize everything happening in our house as it existed then, in the sense, that if Lord Krishna was about to leave for someplace , I would imagine it happening at our house gate. If his mother Yashoda asked him to open his mouth, I would imagine him sitting at the dining table and doing "Aaaa".

All things that happened at the court of King Dashrath were visualized by me as happening in the big living room, with the King sitting in my late grandfather's armchair. Folks arriving in chariots and stuff always entered through the garage gate.

And so my early childhood dreams essentially had a huge storybook quality to them

Slowly, these days passed by, and life was more school and sports oriented. At some point in the 9th grade, I came home one day with high fever, which stayed that way for 4 days, despite our family doctor's medicines, several concerned visits, several tepid water spongings, and ice strips on the forehead, and a hugely worried mother , as I appeared to be in my own world and hot and unresponsive.

My late mother used to tell the story of how one morning they decided along with our family doctor, to finally consult a specialist if I didn't come out of it that morning.

About an hour later, I seemed to be muttering something, shaking my head a lot, I broke into a sweat, and opened my eyes, saying "I'm saved ! I'm saved !".

Despite the relief at my awakening, my mother wanted to know what was going on, and it seems I told them of a dream , which was continuously happening. There were two hills on two sides of a valley. The entire valley floor was populated by crocodiles and alligators wandering about in a "lunch" mode. For some reason I was doing continuous desperate jumps from one hill top to the other, across the valley.

I must have been at it for a longish period and gotten complacent. Because during one such jump, I missed out and started descending into the valley, heart in my mouth, terrified, and shaking my head wordlessly screaming NO, NO! .....I could see the greedy alligators below , maybe licking their lips , and suddenly, something held me in a big hand, and stopped the fall. The entire shock must have been too much for the fever, because that's the point at which I opened my eyes, saying"I'm saved! I'm saved !".

There was a time when it was considered very brave to listen to ghost stories at night. Or you were considered "not part of the group". Certain cousins were very good at the gory detailing, and making strange sounds when it was "lights out" at night. I think I was so stressed out with getting truly frightened and pretending in the group that I was not, that it all came alive in my dreams. It wasn't unknown for me to cry out and shout for help in my dreams, and the whole bunch of kids lying on mattresses in the living room, had a wonderful time.

I soon got over this. And the dreams became more ordinary, yet sometimes repetitive.

There is a dream that I have got often over the years, where its dark, and I am, along with a whole bunch of folks in different cars, trying to drive up a mountain or hill, where we are supposed to stay . For some reason we keep going round and round the mountain, with hairpin bends and stuff, the folks with me keep commenting how they think we are on the wrong road (not that there is a choice :-)), and when we finally reach a totally unimpressive place at the top, the fellows there say, everything is full, and I am welcome to put up in the lobby. Its not clear what happens after this in the dream, but driving takes up most of the time. The interesting thing is, that I have had this dream many times.

While random dangerous and exciting things figured in my dreams in my younger days, these days things are different.

I wondered why.

You see, we have a thing called the hippocampus in our brain, that controls our emotions. Lest we live our lives solely based on the hippocampic behaviour, we also have a thing called a frontal cortex in our brain, that acts as a sort of decent control thing , by applying reason to things. And so ,if you are really mad at someone and feel (hippocampically) like whacking them one, you don't do that, and think the smart thing to do is move away from there, keep your mouth shut, or simply concentrate on food or something.

I think something similar happens to dreams. I haven't had an alarming sensational dream in a long time. Occasionally , one has dreamt about an intruder entering the house, and watched him stealthily approach your cupboard or something. I've worried in my dreams about where my children were then. Often this has resulted in some shouts of warning from me (in my dream), except that the shouts are real, and I am told in no uncertain terms to snap out of the dream , stop disturbing everyone, and let people sleep .

These days, one dreams less, because, I guess , one sleeps less. Sleep is spread out more widely, and sometimes a short nap in the afternoon happens. I have even managed to dream there.

This week, I dreamt during one such nap, that we were going somewhere, I was driving, and there was this older lady around 85-86 sitting next to me in the front. Suddenly we entered a tunnel , and the road went up a steep incline like 60 degrees. I had entered the tunnel at great speed, and I kept pressing the accelerator for dear life, till I couldn't push further, I could sense gravity acting, but the car kept proceeding in the dark, and the lady next to me kept saying loud invocations to God, when all of a sudden, there was a semicircle of light as the tunnel emerged onto a plateau, and I stopped out of sheer fright, trying to catch a breath. Suddenly a short official of some sort comes rushing by, taps on the window, and tells me, that this entire tunnel had been replaced by a short-cut diversion , and I should have used that. Stupid me.

I don't know what to make of this, though it simply emphasizes my belief that we in India need to get our signage correct. Otherwise, I continue climbing those steep tunnels in the dark, I guess....

But there has been an exception, when I thought I had a dream that sent me a real message.

Ten years ago, my mother, then in her eighties, returned from a family trip to the US to attend a grandson's graduation. She stayed with me for a some days in Mumbai before planning to leave for her home in Pune. Which she never did. On her 3rd day with us, she suddenly collapsed in the evening, had to be hospitalized in the ICCU, and after two days of putting up a brave fight, finally gave in. She never did reach her own house this time.

My father soon insisted on returning to his house despite our entreaties to stay on, and I made several trips over the next several months, getting things organized for someone who insisted on staying alone, in the ancestral house. My frequency of visits soon reduced, and on one of my last visits, I had a very strange dream.

The house is on the first floor, reachable by an old style wide staircase, which has railings to help elderly folks climb. In my dream, I was rushing down one morning, on some errand for my father, when I saw someone sitting on the last step. The entire staircase was lit in a bright white light , which was not normally the case, even though there were windows on a landing in between. I reached the bottom of the stairs and found my mother sitting there.

"Why are you sitting here ? Come up ! " I said

"You know, I tried and tried. But I cannot go beyond this step. My legs just don't move. So I just decided to sit and rest hoping someone would come down. And you did !" she said.

" Oh! Come with me, I'll take you home . " I said, and I lifted her in both my arms. She was totally light, almost weightless. I went up the stairs and opened the door, and pushed it with my foot. When I wanted to put my mother down, there was "NOTHING" in my arms.

I was her only child in India , was still coming to terms with what had happened in Mumbai , and worrying about my father when he decided to return to Pune.

Maybe she was, too. And so she returned , with my help, to her own house.

Don't know whether the hippocampus or the frontal cortex had anything to do with this dream.

But my mother certainly did.

And she has never appeared in a dream for me after that.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Chewing of the ......

My first memory related to chewing gum, has to do with someone in my third grade class being caught chewing, and being asked to leave the room and stand outside, by the class teacher, with a tape across the lips. Not just chewing gum, but one simply did not chew anything in class.

We did have certain people in class who liked to act defiant, and some chewed gum to look fashionable.

Ours was an English medium school, at a time (a few years after Independence), when , in the milieu that I came from, sending your children there was considered akin to being a traitor. The overall social ethos in these schools was different, and those of us innocent types who thought school was for studies , often secretly looked on wide eyed at these defiant, gum chewing, fearless types, many of whom never did homework, told fibs, read comics (then banned), and could sing Elvis Presley songs, with the required shaking and stuff.

Gum chewing is actually more than chewing chemicals or saps and resins of trees. It is an attitude.

In my childhood, wandering into a group of people , say in your living room, or class, or meeting, chewing gum, was considered totally bad manners. You also didn't wander around drinking tea, or eating other stuff. Other folks were also offered the stuff, and you kind of slid effortlessly into the milieu. As children you did a lot of surreptitious raiding of cupboards and eating, but that was different. Even then, suddenly wandering into a roomful of guests, popping stuff into your mouth from the depths of your pocket , earned you a reprimand. And you were deemed a bad mannered spolied child.

Of course, that made chewing gum, and its taste , something glamorous, and you enjoyed the two pieces occasionally when out shopping with your parents and so on. (It then came in green and yellow packs of 4 pieces).

When I first went to the US for grad school in 1970, one of the biggest things I found different was you could eat whatever anywhere, without concern for whoever sat next to you. And I don't mean sitting on the lawn.

For example, I was shocked at some students eating lunch in class, right under the professor's nose. The professor himself often came in with a mug of coffee in his hand. And no one even thought of offering to share whatever they were eating. That was considered normal.

We teaching assistants (TAs) sat in a huge office room, and one of the senior profs came in to see someone who was assisting him. To my complete shock, the TA continued to sit and eat and converse with the prof, who was standing by his desk. Amazingly , when this happened with me ( I wasn't eating), I promptly stood up as if by reflex action, at my seat to converse with the prof, who then wondered why I was up, and urged me to sit down, while he stood. I couldn't. And everyone had a good laugh about it.

The US was actually chewing gum heaven, and everyone was constantly chewing gum in my office room. The students would be chewing. The bus drivers would be chewing. Folks in offices would be chewing. I too enjoyed gum once in a while, but never had an endless supply around like other folks.

And so chewing gum, per se, stopped being a digestive activity , and became a culture.

Gum chewing, has now gone, far beyond, popular folks in school showing attitude, or what is called in India a "time-pass" . Globalization (the dreaded G word again), and fast communications of the written and the visual type , offer you various scenarios in which chewing gum is an integral part of someones mental makeup.

It shows nonchalance, defiance, superiority, and a possible connection between the jaw movements and thinking.

Ricky Ponting, the Australian Cricket test Captain, is not a favorite of mine. Particularly , when he is fielding, say at second slip , chewing away , wads of chewey stuff in his pocket, glaring at the batsman, speaking out of the side of his mouth to first slip , and he will suddenly spit the stuff out on to his palm, and start off with another set of gum pieces. I don't know what he does with the stuff he spits, but it always looks like he is thinking in detail about how to be nasty to the opposition.

Closer to home, I was watching the opening ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games in Delhi a few days ago, and the highlight was supposed to be when some highly medalled Indian athletes would run in a relay with the Queen's baton, and the last person would hand it over to Prince Charles, representing the Commonwealth head, the Queen Elizabeth.

And so there was the last athlete, world wrestling champion Susheel Kumar, jogging in measured steps, chewing away to glory, baton in hand, smiling for the TV and other cameras and he lands up next to the Prince, Camilla, the Indian President, and several world dignitaries, shakes their hand (chew, chew), and smiles (chew, chew), turns around and jogs away somewhere, doubtlessly chewing some more.

To me, it took away something from the occasion. I mean here were some graceful other baton carriers, doing the stuff in a way that enhanced the occasion, and then this guy looks like he was out for a casual run, chewing, and decided to help with the baton at the last lap.

Young people here chew gum today, all the time. Ads on TV even highlight benefits for teeth, highlighting the power of the "glow".

It bothers me when you talk to someone and then answer back in between chewing gum chews. Its worse when you talk to older folks while nonchalantly chewing this way and that. I've been known to glare.

Unlike in historical days, when stuff was chewed for health reasons and consisted of barks and saps and resins of medicinal trees, today, gum is completely manufactured from chemicals . A look at research done of chewing gum, and its correlation to human psychology, alertness, confidence, brain blood flow, and enhanced heart beats, reveals, that most of this research is sponsored and funded by the Wrigley company. Chewing gum supposedly improves memory . There are even reports on how young children can get lesser ear infections and swallow less antibiotics , if they chew gum. Gum chewing is supposed to improve concentration. Amazingly, 5 pieces of chewing gum chewed daily is supposed to bring back the bowel function of those undergoing gastrointestinal surgery.

I await the day, when chewing gum is proved beneficial for heart patients, stroke patients, and for healing of fractures, not to mention, learning maths, playing the violin, singing. You can add your own.

I guess those who must chew, chew. Each American supposedly chews 300 sticks (1.5 lbs) of chewing gum each year. I am sure we will shortly follow suit.

It doesn't matter what I think in my old age.

But I wish they would pay attention to someone, who has been chewing in style for ages, without any ear infections, concentration enhancement, dicey university research and increased heartbeats. The object here is to simply make things easier for your digestive system ,improve your teeth, and strengthen, what I think is an awesome jaw.

Enjoy :

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Burning issues

One quiet Mumbai February evening, 40 years ago, I had just returned home from Pune and was unpacking and chatting, when there was a big commotion of folks shouting and rushing, on an upper floor. We were all young new employees, each staying in a temporary one room accommodation till our turn came up for the apartments available.

We rushed out, just in time to hear that someone had got burnt accidentally on the first floor, and people were rushing there. I picked up the tube of Burnol and we ran there. The sight was heart rending.

A friend, herself a doctor, was sitting outside in the corridor, in great pain from the direct flame burns , unable to move, her terrified husband, himself burnt (a bit less), was trying to comfort her, while many helpful folks were rushing around trying to put out the fire in their room that was threatening to go out of control. I ran to her, trying to comfort her, and along with another friend tried to apply the ointment wherever we could. Someone suggested applying ice, and some folks tried that too. Some folks helped her husband, who was relatively less burned, and in a position to walk, but my friend was in a bad way.

She was 4 months pregnant, could sense her body reacting to the intense burn trauma, and as a doctor , knew exactly what was happening. An ambulance soon arrived and we rushed with her to the hospital. As we sat beside her and sped across town, she suddenly clutched my hand, and said, "I think I am going into shock" .......and she looked at her husband seated across. Between sharp breaths, she told us to contact her guide with whom she was specializing , who worked at another hospital. And then looked at her husband, her eyes, now slits in a hugely swollen face, and wondered aloud softly , about the future of their yet unborn child.

Hospital admission, besides treatment , also involved , some police work. The police spoke to her husband, after he had been given some urgent treatment, and then took us aside.

"Do you know this couple ?" the constable asked.

"Yes. very well. She is a good friend of mine. " Me, trying to be polite.

" Was there a problem with her and her husband ? " He looks at me.

" How dare you ask this ? What business is it of yours ? I will complain . How can you ask this when , right now, we should all be doing something to help her and her husband ? " I will complain about this "... Me. Raging mad.

"Ma'am. Please. We have to make a report about this as all burn cases are police cases. And when the burn victim is not in a position to talk , we ask the folks who are related or neighbors etc. I saw you talking to the doctors etc, so thought you could help us." Maybe the constable faced this kind of anger from folks routinely.

Placated, I helped him do the report. He did his work, and went away with his colleagues. We stayed there, watching her sink, unresponsive to the best treatment because she was very very badly burnt. Her senior doctor guide had rushed over, and she was getting very personalized care, but it was not to be. It was all over in the morning. And I never , never forgot this whole thing.

Two days ago, S. my household help, gave me some shocking news. At some point during the last year, she had introduced me to a lady who would be additionally coming to help with some work. H., the lady who came was so thin, she was almost two dimensional.

Her mother-in-law, totally opposite and almost spherical, had worked with me earlier, and was what could be called a boss figure in their house.

By contrast, H , not yet middle aged, and a mother of two, was was a simple quiet worker, unwilling to say a bad word about anyone in the house. She had a husband, who drank, demanded money, and beat her frequently and mercilessly. Very often he grabbed the money she kept aside for the childrens' school expenses.

She had taken to muttering to herself about ending it all once and for all, and lately, he had taken to taunting her , and urging her to immolate herself. All the neighbours , including S and her family heard him shout when drunk. The very thin H, had now reduced to something almost like a stick; but she continued to slog in their house, with nary a decent word from her mother-in-law, and non stop abuse from her husband.

Two nights ago, H hardened her mind, stopped thinking of her children, poured kerosene over herself, and lit a match. Reality was terrible, and she ran screaming out of her one room house.

S.'s children , heard the commotion, and ran to help, waking the other neighbors, and rushed her to hospital. The husband, in a drunk stupor , stayed at home. There was , of course, a police case, and the police made enquiries . H's burn injuries, were either within mangeable limits, (thanks to quick action by the neighbors), or may she was simply rushed there in good time, but she was able to speak to the police.

Today no one wants to tangle with the police, and the neighbors kept quiet.

And so the police hardly spoke to the others. H was asked if she wanted to name someone as the culprit who caused this.

And H, hurting like mad from all that exposed burnt skin, and even more from the fact that she lived, shook her head. "No, she didn't want to name anyone. Everyone was nice to her in the family. She was cooking and the stove got dragged when her saree edge got stuck while removing a hot utensil. That caused the flames to touch the fabric, and the fire started. "

The police made a cursory check, didn't ask anyone else anything. They went away to submit their report. No foul play.

In the meanwhile, the next day the actual "foul player" her husband, came, ascertained the costs of treatment, got into an argument with the duty doctor, and took her home against medical advice. The frightened children stayed with their mother, still nursing some very serious wounds while their father continued his drinking and baiting of his wife. Turns out that the wounds became septic swollen, and she was moved to another hospital.

I asked my household help S., why H did not take the children and leave and go back to her parents. And found out there were no parents , only an uncle an aunt, who were very old and badly off. H had nowhere to go.

I remembered these two instances because I recently saw a program on TV about skin banks. One can donate skin post death, just like one can donate eyes. And the pr0cedure is visually untraumatic for the relatives . The number of donors continues to rise.

Some outstanding Burns Treatment related work is happening at the L.T.M.G Hospital in Mumbai. The doctor on TV was from there. The same hospital where my friend was taken 40 years ago by us. Specially Treated Skin from the skin banks is used to actually initiate an innovative fast healing. And many people can now survive.

The doctor who was being interviewed on TV mentioned that the patients who come are almost always young women. Who now stand a decent chance . They stand to recover and get on with their lives , and possibly enjoy a fruitful family life in the future.

I thought of my friend, who could have possibly lived , had this research been around at that time. And become a good pediatrician, something she was specializing in. I see her face, questioning us about the child she was carrying. I remember the police making detailed enquiries with us. She desperately wanted to live , and could not.

And then I wonder about folks like H., who are stuck in a horrendous life. No education, no future. Nothing to fall back on. Except a huge depression. A manic husband, and a mother-in-law , who doesn't have the guts to tell off her erring son, and hand him over to the police. Who amazingly , believe what H expressionlessly told them in the hospital.

We have so many discoveries, inventions, smart scientists, excellent doctors, a government who knows how to announce successes from the rooftops.

Those who have some education, or, better still, educated mothers, stand to benefit from all this.

What should people like H do ?

October is supposed to be Domestic Violence Awareness month.

Maybe her husband knew that ?