Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Chronicles of Corruptia

A day in the life of a schoolgirl in 2040.

History and government are her favorite subjects. And she has done of lot of research into the Scammy Age which is what happened in the beginning of the 21st century.

And she has written a paper on the Theatre of the Scams. She was going to call it the Theatre of the Absurd, but was told that plain absurdity had tinges of plain innocence. There was none here.

And so she wrote about the person in the portrait alongside, a father , Sir Mercy Gogglewalla, who blindly doted on his willful poetic daughter, YesIkani.

And how they conspired with a person of royal nomenclature but the standards of a goonda, called Akingo.

How he met , in the course of his misdeeds , a hefty looking pseudo sports type , Kuresh Salmadi, who sported a fake virtual turban, and misled two other sport types called Bhan and Verm into joining him, in spending the country's money on food and timers, ordered at outrageous prices.

YesIkani, under Akingo's influence, became great drinking friends with Ms Toddywalla Radio who actually knew all the useful and big shots around.

Between Akingo, YesIkani, Ms Toddywalla, and with the help of a few other people from actual industry of the country, crores of rupees were appropriated.

The time was such that everyone was then being looked upon with suspicion.

Ms. Sympatica, the erstwhile CM of an adjoining state, assumed queenly stature with her display of jewellery and power, and her efforts to convert an old river behind the Taj Mahal, into an expressway. It is said that another prince from an adjoining state is giving her a tough fight.

Holding the banner aloft for the southern part of the country was another queenly person, Ms. Victoria Varieta, who had long long ago known Mr Mercy Gogglewalla in Tamil films, but was not willing to give him or his willful daughter the time of the day now. She had sworn off jewellery while Mr Mercy Gogglewala and his cronies were in power , and people remarked on how jewellery was now making a comeback, now that someone was looking into the corrupt linkages of YesIkani, Akingo, and others.

And how can we forget, Empathica Energy, the lady (shown sitting in the middle) who showed a ray of honest light, when she drove out the communists from Bengal by democratic means. She was honored in a photo with the ruling party chairperson, and Ms Victoria Varieta, and as much as they tried they couldn't get YesIkani to go away, and so there is this picture for posterity, of some powerful women pretending to be ordinary (!)

But the find of the day , for the school girl doing the paper in 2040, was a scene from, what she thought was a play, but which was the depiction on what was actually happening in 2011.

YesIKani, Ms Toddywalla Radio, and Mr Mercy Gogglewalla, getting away with it all, and the ruling party chairperson, and Ms Victoria Varieta (in disguise), just standing by .....

The teacher gave the schoolgirl a new videophone. They don't give grades anymore.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Cell phone to the rescue

I was a late entrant into the world of cell phones. I used to think at first that only folks like doctors , emergency services like police, fire etc would benefit from these so they could respond faster.

Slowly, cell phones became a "required item" for everyone. It was de rigeur, to give folks minute to minute updates on your bus trips to and from work. It was de rigeur to do mass messaging of some stupid jokes. Amazingly, sometimes narcissism flowered unknowingly, as folks photographed themselves with their own cellphones, holding them in front, now that cameras had a become de rigeur on phones. And when all was done, you stuck two probes in your ears, wore wires like garlands, and walked around , looking, as if you were a lost case , and were talking and guffawing to yourself; all because you wanted to use what was called "hands-free".

Then I heard about the "missed call" system. Reams have been written about the innovative usage of these in India, from simply sending a preplanned message via a terminated call, to running an entire autorickshaw-on-request system, in Kakinada , at no cost to either consumer.

One birthday dinner at a well known Marathi traditional food place in Pune, saw a young girl photograph a wonderfully filled plate with all the goodies, and upload it on Facebook; her cousin in the US who was a FB friend was impressed , and immediately sent back a "like", and shared the photo with others, one of whom was actually celebrating the birthday at that moment in India, at the lunch !

I recently heard of a more serious use.

An old grandpa in Bengaluru had cataract surgery. He was so impressed with the results that he complimented the doctor profusely, and then decided to go on a special thanksgiving pilgrimage. Certain part of the pilgrimage was to be done barefoot. And by and by the family returned home. Except, grandpa was a diabetic for many years, and his foot had now caught some infection. Typically, the hurting foot was treated first with household remedies, wraps, massages, etc etc, without success. It was an angry reddish swollen sight, very painful, and mobility was getting affected. So it was finally decided to operate before the danger of gangrene manifested itself.

Grandpa's only son , X. , was there throughout , and everyone breathed a sigh of relief after grandpa recovered from the surgery and was brought into the hospital room. X was married to a girl whose mother was a doctor in Mumbai. The doctor from Mumbai had called earlier to find out how things were going. X took a photo on his cell phone , and sent it to his ma-in-law, so she could see for her self.

Soon it was evening, and a relieved family brought out their dabbas and had a dinner of sorts in the waiting area. Grandpa too, was allowed a meal. He was helped up , and he had some excellent home made food . The energy seemed to be returning back, and people stopped by to chit chat with grandpa. This went on for some time.

Sometime later, a cleaning staff member, on a routine visit to the room, suddenly looked aghast at grandpa's foot , and what he said threw everyone into a tizzy. The foot was slowly dripping blood, and a pool was forming on the floor. And no one had noticed, including grandpa.

It was sometime before the doctors would arrive, but X had in the meanwhile got alarmed, called his ma-in-law, and sent her the picture of the bleeding foot and its environs. She immediately realised that no one had informed the patient or his relatives about keeping the leg appropriately elevated, and not letting it hang down like this. She even uploaded the photo on her computer to see it in detail, and promptly told her son-in-law what was happening.

Grandpa needed to lie down, slightly elevating the leg. They needed to ensure that grandpa's loss of blood had not adversely affected his Hb levels, his blood pressure needed to be confirmed, and she stayed alert , as X , sent her photographs of the wound which was now being attended to by hospital staff, stitches being checked etc etc. When the duty doctor checked the BP and did blood tests , X informed her, so she could tell him if it was a cause for worry or no. The sight of wounds, blood, dressings, stuff dripping all over etc was so traumatic, that X also sent her pictures of the finished dressing , to confirm, if she thought it was OK. Naturally, given grandpa's age, and diabetes, loss of blood, surgery etc, she asked X to stay at the bedside the whole night and keep observing grandpa. Ensure that the leg was at a slight elevation, and not allowed to hang down . And contact the resident doctor immediately and then her, if he noticed certain signs.

The next day dawned , and grandpa had recovered well. The dressing on the foot looked a bit frightening. The wound and the blood was under control. X called his mother-in-law with the news (and latest closeups of the stuff), checked if he could leave for a short while and then left when some other family member took over.

Grandpa returned home after a couple of days and is now fine. This episode happened almost a couple of months ago.

It is a fact, that sometimes, health care entities do not educate the patient and the attending relatives on the things to be careful about , post surgery. Things like the post surgical normal position of the limb in question, whether the person can use a pillow, whether water can be given to a patient when demanded ; so many things. Even simple things like which pills must be given with food, and which ones when fasting. Sometimes patients hesitate to ask the doctors, sometimes overcome by the aura of the expertise. Some people hesitate to ask the doctor thinking he /she will get angry. I've seen folks going into huddled whispers when the doctor comes on a visit. When they should actually be listening carefully and asking questions related to the patients well being and perceived difficulties.

It's not as if grandpa in the above story, would have had problems , if X had not called someone who was a doctor in Mumbai and related too. But he was able to ensure that post bleeding, the blood pressure , haemoglobin was being checked and followed up, and was able to confirm with his Mumbai contact what the local doctor was saying. His ability to stay alert throughout the night checking up on grandpa, his sleep, alertness and movement of the leg, possibly also kept some local paramedical folks on their toes.

And there is something to be said, for a son, thanks to some reassuring advice, getting some peace of mind, after all that "bloody" excitement, as he sat by his father's bedside, the whole night, keeping the truant limb in sight.

Such a great use of a cell phone, for someone not familiar with medicine, surgery, and the likes. But very very familiar with what all the cell phone could do.

I just thought this was such an amazing use of the cell phone ....

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

My Biometric Life

It is one of the ironies of life, that when I was younger, and much more amenable to standing in queues,, and darting alertly between differently moving queues, I didn't really have to queue up for anything as such.

We will leave out school assemblies and buses, and train ticket counters. And movie ticket queues. Because we were never really allowed to be avid movie goers , as such , in our student years.

The business of queues started worrying me when I had to stand in vague undefined queues for things like ration cards, passports, visas, children's college admissions (typically for the last 3, in pouring torrential rains) where the line of folks often went around entire office blocks.

Maybe its a Mumbai thing. When you are born here, the queuing gene automatically kind of pushes itself into your DNA strands. OK, maybe it waits in line, but at the end of the day, it manages to get in.

So when I heard about this new concept of the UID (Unique Identification ) card that the government planned for the citizenry, I was alarmed. We've been cowering under a plethora of id's like PAN cards, Ration cards, Election cards, Drivers Licence Cards, various Bank cards, various ID cards from employers, Retiree cards, and even Senior Citizen cards.

I had visions of having to line up at dawn in queues for this card, with thermoses of tea, folding chairs et al, while some folks hired proxy folks to stand all night in line, and occupy a space, which they then "took over", after a good night's sleep and heavy breakfast .

But the way it is unfolding is uncanny. They have a website and they have occasional articles in the newspapers, but no one is saying where you can apply for such a card. The website lists centres in Mumbai. Nothing else. No dates, cut off dates, timings, nothing.

I heard about it first, from my household help S, who came to work late one morning, cursing some folks who picked fights in the queue. Someone came in their locality announcing about these cards. This was then embellished and subject to all kinds of rumours. People spoke about a waiting time of 4 hours in the queues.

Turns out that there was one queue to collect pre numbered forms. You filled that up, and reappeared with supporting documents, and stood in another line, for the actual UID processing.

Her son, who accompanied her for the forms, tried to broker the peace between two arguing gents in the queue, when things threatened to get out of hand, only to have a policeman amble over, and request him to accompany him. S, ended up leaving the queue to brief the policeman about what was really happening and that her son was actually trying to maintain peace. When a hardworking angry Indian lady does such a thing, the policeman obviously listens, because they let her son go, after S had kind of given the policeman a small piece of her mind, in a succinct ringing voice.

A local municipal school has been commandeered by the government, for the project. This is the vacation period in Mumbai, and the first time I sort of ambled over from the market, with the beans and tomatoes, to check out the place and its queues and environs , there was a huge wedding going on. The caterers were performing in one shamiana outside, there were all kinds of delicious smells emanating, and the entrance was decorated with flowers and stuff. A big banner, smack in the middle of government banners about the UID card proclaimed in a huge font size, about who was marrying who. When I sort of ambled over , ignoring a small queue, some one thought I was attending the wedding, and smilingly welcomed me. I apologized and was quickly directed to some UID official, who was also in his best clothes and smiling !

I effortlessly put on my best " ordinary old lady confused about automatic things " look, and the fellow gave me his expert opinion on when to come, that there were senior citizen facilities (read separate queue), what documentary proofs I needed etc etc.

The form is actually extremely simple. My family (2 senior citizens, one young adult) landed up this morning, to see long queues outside a glass door, and some guys watching from inside with a sense of superiority. I went in search of the person I had met earlier, after asking my folks to occupy places in the general queue, just in case, his memory failed him or something.

This time , the problem was, that the senior citizens could go in, but not the daughter. I tried to explain to the guy, the benefits of processing an entire family together, and emphasized the fact that 66% of the family was senior citizens. The home addresses, and certain other common data would repeat in the data entry, and my understanding of software told me that certain settings would help data entry here to be more efficient. Over a full day, if they did families together, they would certainly save time for everyone.

Typically, no one pays attention to what I am saying, but it occurs to them that the simplest way to get rid of me is to let me go through. So they waved us all in, and we were the first folks to be profiled biometrically for that day.

A biggish room, with four stations set up, each with scanners, printers, cameras, data entry laptops , verification laptops, and 4 young men and women handling them. There were places for us to sit and wait till our number was called. Our form data was entered, our faces were photographed as we stared into something like a web cam. We were then asked to place four fingers of each hand on some scanner and these appeared on screen. This was followed by the thumbs.

In each case , we could see our biometric details on a laptop in front of us, while the young lady controlled stuff from her own networked laptop. The system would actually analyse the images, possibly for the required level of clarity, and declare them Pass or Fail. Intriguingly, I "failed" in the thumbs. I repeated the stuff, and after what appeared to be a lot of thinking, the system declared me "Passed".

I am still trying to figure out the significance of this. Never mind.

But all was not done. I was now asked to open my eyes wide, ("like you are very angry with some one " the young lady advised), and look into a contraption that looked like binoculars. The lady removed these after a while, and a set of huge , heavily detailed, hazel eyes, stared back at me from the screen. For the first time I was frightened by my own eyes on screen .

I was asked to check out the correctness of my entered data on screen, alongside all these biometric things, and my information was now complete. I signed a form with the captured details, and a copy was signed by the supervisor of the room, and given to me. I would get the card, by post after a couple of months. Until then the receipt would suffice.

We left. But not before we congratulated them for an excellently organized system. All young folks, so many of them women, handling the machines , and communications with the people with great attention and expertise. The supervisor was a young woman, constantly moving around the stations, and checking on things. There was another assistant fellow, who troubleshooted any loose cables, printer cartridges and stuff. All very confident, capable, and cheerfully handling folks with a variety of ages, languages and
social backgrounds.

We were out in 30 minutes. The crowd has swelled. My friend was distributing blank forms, another one was directing people inside to the biometric room. Of course, there were restless types in the queue. Some patiently standing. And there was an elderly couple being shown in.

Something just occurred to me as we stepped out in the muggy sun of Mumbai, and made our way through the market amidst whiffs of mangoes on sale, and fresh green veggies being put out for sale, and water being sprinkled on a hot dusty road.

This week has been notable for the fact that two alumni of the place where I live, have been in the National news.

One of them, grew up on the campus, and graduated from there , where his father taught for many many years, in the late seventies and early eighties, He is a central minister now, and he recently roundly rubbished the quality of the teachers/faculty, of some of the country's most excellent, and acclaimed institutes (his almamater was one). It is significant to note that he does not hold the education or science-technology portfolio at the centre.

The other, is an alumni, who graduated from here, then went on to be a founder of one of India's most acclaimed and successful IT companies. He then donated back to his almamater large sums from his own holdings, for Instituting Academic Chairs, and funding of student hostels, a place where he must have spent many interesting and unforgettable years in his student days on this residential campus. The government requested his expertise in heading the very important Unique Identification Project for the citizens of the country, and he left the cushy environs of a corporate czarship, to do that. The entire UID card system was being implemented across the country under his stewardship, and a whole lot of young people were being trained in new skills and employed because of the project.

It makes you wonder what you think education really is.

The entire experience today at the UID centre was an amazing eye opener .

Just one question. If you are of an age where cataracts are enthused about appearing, and a possible metabolic situation predisposes you , maybe, for glaucoma, what happens to the wonderful eye scan that then becomes invalid ?

I continue to wonder, wide-eyed.

Must I do this all over again ?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shining through the stained glass........

Indiblogger together with Yahoo India and Dove have invited entries for a competition titled ,"

"What does real beauty mean to you?"

This is my entry.

Sixty-one years is a long time, particularly if you are an observer of beauty norms in society.

That's a lot of watching....

Not that beauty is a speciality of mine; in fact, whenever I stand in front of a mirror, both my reflection and I are always looking everywhere else, except at each other. It's possible there isn't much to look at; it's also possible that there is way too much of everything to look at.

But let me start at the beginning.

In my childhood, no one really discussed beauty. Not that there were too many choices and options, but beauty was all about a clear "fair" skin, a nose comparable to a champa flower bud, long lustrous jet black flowing hair, preferably to your knees, and deep black eyes made even more beautiful with kohl/kajal.

Most folks who were born that way , remained that way, while those of us who were born with the wrong colors and shapes, simply stuck to daily face washes with chana floor,ambehaldi, and cream , and weekly tough hair washes with shikakai.

Efforts to wear kajal and kohl were abandoned by me after someone commented on how it made one look "cunning". Hazel eyes and kohl simply didn't work.

College wasn't much different. There was more emphasis on clothes. Cosmetics were not a big thing in the consumer market. There were no brand wars because there was really no one to fight with. Lipstick and rouge were things you wore, if you acted in the annual college play.

We had never heard of sunscreens and sunblocks . And what is truly intriguing is that although the latitudes and longitudes, and the Sun, of my childhood , all remain unchanged even today, folks now apparently get more tanned , and slap on lotions and stuff, possibly because some company in some commercial has a groom rejecting a dark bride.

Of course , there were exceptions, and folks like me were at the lower end of the scale, looking up open mouthed at some who wore full makeup, fancy hairstyles, deep necked blouses, and had fellows in crew cuts and suits, escorting them to Navy "balls".....

By and by , one traveled across the world for education, and later returned home to work. But while beauty and I would occasionally surreptitiously glance at each other, we kept standing on different train platforms.

Like so many others of my type, I eventually learned . Some folks needed some help, and some didn't. Sometimes, squeezing tubes to slather nice smelling stuff on your face, worked, and this was called "pampering yourself". When we did it by mixing stuff from first principles in banged up katoris, it was called "making do with something". ....

And so , it has happened, that today, beauty to me , is clean cut features, a smooth skin, an almost-not-there level of makeup, a neutral lipstick, and some amazing eye lining. Beauty to me, is also nice smelling clean hair, that happily and freely flies, and doesn't look like the dhobi ironed it. If there is an additional heartfelt smile factor, I declare you beautiful.

While these are what I would call surface "shows", observations over the last 50 years indicate that beauty , to me, has deeper origins.

And so beauty, is the shining, sweating, tearful face of a mother, holding her child close whispering to him, and comforting his trauma after a hurtful procedure at the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital ; who knows what the future is, but to the child, she is it.

Beauty is a small grandchild rolling out a tiny chapati , roasting it almost dark, and serving it to an indulgent grandpa/grandma, along with a tumbler of water, all this on a huge tray shakily carried , and the grandparent taking a bite, shaking the head in wonder, while the little one puffs up in pride, and rushes back , to make another stiff chapati.

Beauty is a fair-ish mother with a wheatish complexioned grown up daughter , deliberately ignoring and downplaying her own face features during a family visit , because this is a world which has abused the meaning of "fair" and what isn't fair isn't lovely, as they keep repeating everywhere.

Beauty is an adult son, seeing you rushing at some emergency cooking, observing you making phulkas, and volunteering to roast them on the fire while you roll them out, because he feels he can handle the "technology", and it halves your work.

Beauty is waking up to a daughter exclaiming about your rough feet, and then she urging you to lie down as she massages some cream into your feet; there is an additional beauty ingredient in that cream, and the companies, including Dove, know nothing about it.

Beauty is the fruit seller, packing your fruits into your bag, looking up to see a young construction worker mother with a child on her hips , looking at his wares, and then he plucking out a small mango, and giving it with a smile to the delighted child.

Beauty is also a daughter agonizing about your grey streaks, and desperately offering to do a hair color treatment for you herself, and all the while you've been thinking that it makes you look wise, senior, and gets you priority entry whenever there are long queues....

And finally, Beauty, is also an 83 year old grandma, out with her daughter and granddaughter for a surprise birthday facial; the herbal stuff, the face and neck massage, young caring hands applying a mask, and when they ask Grandma to lie down to allow the mask to dry, she actually falls asleep and starts snoring, causing indulgent looks from the youngsters, and the beautician, who is actually missing her own Mom.....

And so the real beauty, is all in the mind.

You don't need to exhibit colors of the rainbow, waxed marble type skins, permanently surprised arched eyebrows, unnaturally long eyelashes, polished cheekbones, pierced navels, Dracula inspired nail color, or clothes that indicate a fabric famine.

I hear lipsticks now have flavors in addition to colors. I wonder if they have a batata-vada flavor lipstick.

Might be , as some are fond of saying, a win-win deal for someone trying to lose weight and a company trying to think out of the (makeup)-box. (Dove, are you listening ?...)

A lady called Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who happens to be a Swiss American psychiatrist and a wonderful author , knows exactly what I mean by "beauty", when she says :

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.

And so I continue to look for that light from within......

And that's what beauty means to me !

(If you wish to read thoughts on beauty by those folks who look beautiful 24x7, (eg. even when they sneeze, blow their nose, cry etc) please have a look at Yahoo Real Beauty....)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Death, dark, and fairy stories.

Prominent cosmologist Stephen Hawking, in a recent interview to the British newspaper, The Guardian, has said that , "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

While Hawking, (who suffers from severe motor neurone disease for the last 49 years, and "enjoys" computer assisted communication) , is surely entitled to his esteemed opinion as Director of Research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, at DAMTP in Cambridge, UK, I don't see how how regarding the brain as a computer , implies the presence or absence of heaven and/or afterlife.

Comparing the brain and a computer is like comparing the Himalayas with the hill in my backyard, or say, the movements in
Kalarippayattu or Russian ballet , with my dodging actions and hesitant moves, as I attempt to cross the high traffic potholed road outside.

Brains are so superior to computers.

They have a built-in neural plasticity, that allows a particular sense or circuitry in the brain, to take over the functions of a disabled sense or ability, to some degree, and perform new learning. And so you have sightless people who have an amazing sense of hearing or touch, or someone so mathematically incapable, but who can navigate through the intricate alleys of classical music and "taalaa", with impeccable renditions, in languages you don't need to know, to understand them.

When did you last see a computer, where after a virus attack, the CPU remembered and learned to ward of other attacks ? When was the last time, the monitor conked out, and say, the DVD writer circuitry connections on the motherboard, self adjusted themselves to try and get the monitor working ? When was the last time, the engineer was able to repair your computer while you merrily carried on typing the blogpost ?

And have you heard of complicated surgeries , including those of the brain, being done, with the body anesthetized, and partially temporarily disabled musclewise, and that there is no such thing as a human body "reboot" ?

And have you wondered at what is called human will, which sometimes performs wondrous miracles, as yet unexplained by logic ?

And speaking of rebirth and heaven, nobody has been there and reported back. And so no one has the right to get up and make statements about these things in a definitive way.

Religions may or may not believe in afterlife and reincarnation. Many times, religions across the world, have been misused to get power, and divide normally peaceful people. Blind following of rituals, intimidation of folks in the name of religion, and suppression of education for those in need of it , can never be upheld in any society.

But when , as a child, our understanding of religion was restricted to saying prayers daily , and enjoying festivals, it worked, when someone who was fond of frequently making evil faces at someone was told, not to do so, because , in his/her next life, he/she would be granted a permanently crooked mouth. And it was believed.

Sometimes, one gets repetitive dreams, of some unfamiliar structures. Sometimes , you visit a place and feel something familiar about it, a sense of strange comfort. And sometimes, you feel terribly wary of someone you have just met. Such events are yet to be understood.

The feeling and understanding that this is Play 1, Act 1, and there is always a Act 2 possible, sometimes strengthens the individual when faced with the fall of curtains.

X, at 89 , was a formerly active , wiry, very imaginative, wilful person, who was now bedridden. He had a group of friends who would meet every week in some one's house, for reciting some prayers , some interesting talk, and prasad (blessed food). When he was absent continuously for awhile, his friends called to enquire and were unhappy to hear his news. They asked if they could visit, and the family invited them to have a prayer session with him.

X's face lit up on seeing then, and then he looked a bit confused, because , thanks to memory problems, he suddenly couldn't place some of his friend's names. The eldest member, in his nineties, and a veteran of pilgrimage walkathons, sat on his bed, his hands pressing X's legs.

He cleared his throat.

"Tell me, do you fear Death ? " he asked matter-of-factly . No one in the group thought this was odd. They looked at X.

X took a deep slow breath, and with a great effort so he could talk in a loud voice, shook is head and said "No. Not at all"; and then he smiled at his friend sitting on his bed.

The friend started saying a particular Sanskrit verse, and gestured to X, asking if he remembered the next line. He prodded X, and X exercised all his old and tired neurons at will, and slowly came up with the next lines. The rest joined in, and the prayer was completed with smiles on every ones lips, and eyes that were full.

I think X felt at peace. He wasn't worried about death, heaven, hell, afterlife, or anything. It didn't matter. He was happy now.

He never thought about Death normally, and would not do so now.

It was important to live in the moment, and live it honestly, truthfully and well.

That was heaven for him, in this life.

He would worry about afterlives later. His daughter was reading a book by Brian Weiss, and he was curious. He had noticed the title. "Many lives, many masters ". He would talk to her about it, sometime..... For the moment, he needed to take some rest.

Mr Hawking is supposed to have said, "I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. "

X was never afraid of the dark.

He never battled death. He didn't even play hide and seek.

He just went smiling, facing the bright lights at the end of the tunnel......

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Straight and Simple

If you have driven a 38 year old Fiat for most of your life, and recently, say, in the last 2 years, switched to a new car, you may externally get used to the material comforts, like suspensions that kind of make you glide while driving; airconditioning, that makes you breathe a bit more easily on a hot and humid Mumbai noon in May, and windows that open and close at the touch of a button, and don't require you to perform rotational motions with window handles as if you are extracting sugarcane juice.

While we enjoy the external manifestations of what is commonly referred to as technical superiority and progress, it is interesting to note, that for folks on the wrong side of 60, the mind tends to remain immersed in the days of yore, when cars were pushed frequently by entire families, while someone suddenly put it into gear with the ignition ON; or someone made a slapdash adjustment of your carburettor screw, allowing you somehow make it to the nearest gas station while on a trip.

I've lost count of the times the dynamo was removed, and someone did something to the windings or brushes, and one time the ignition got all locked up, along with a wheel, while we were escorting a bride and groom home from their own reception....

But the crowning glory has been when, on going through a pothole with a misleading depth, the battery of the car, simply jumped its place and fell down on the starter, spilling all its acid there, and there was an almighty explosive noise much like Diwali fireworks.

The reason all this came to mind was because yesterday was the first time we had what can be called an episode in the new car.

A friend and I were attending a social function in the Hill area of the community where we stay. I had taken great care to park the car way to the side, under a streetlight, since the road was steep , narrow, wooded, but still used by biggish buses, driven by impulsive young people, and I wanted to keep out of their way. In the big urge to park as close to the edge, one backed up, and left.

An hour later, we returned, got into the car, and were amazed to find that the ignition and steering wheel had locked. That too, with the wheels pointing to the right, something we had managed to do while parking.

(The last experience I had had, was in our old car when the ignition would randomly lock itself, the key would not turn, and this would happen in heavy traffic, shopping districts, and on flyovers. The thing to be done was to get out of the car, hold on to the sides (of the car), and then shake it back and forth, like you were sifting some grains. Some folks would be muttering about a Bendix Wheel, and somewhere in this shaking manoeuvre, the lock would unlock. And this was often hugely entertaining for the large amount of audience that collected, something very typical of Mumbai.)

So my first impulse was to get out an shake. The car.

Unfortunately, the new car is big, and so the only thing that shook, was me. Putting the car in gear, and releasing the handbrake and clutch, was a kind of gut feeling I had. But the wheels remained firm, and we slid to the middle of the road. Trouble.

We got on to the phones, and Mr Murphy got activated on my phone. No network. Luckily my friend's phone worked, and we called home. In the meanwhile, I urged my friend to leave as she had an appointment, and I sat there in the dark, trying to find solutions from the car manual in the glove compartment.

About an hour went by with me waving the buses away from the car, rickshawallahs giving me looks, and some folks walking by possibly muttering something about women drivers and how they think they know how to park.

You were supposed to apply strength to the key and try and turn it, anticlockwise. I tried. I was aware of my Fiat enabled strength, and took things with a pinch of salt. The key could have cracked.

It had become darker, and I realized this was an area where leopards often wandered around, in the dark. The radio wouldn't turn on, and so I just sat there waiting for folks to land up, when I suddenly spied someone I knew emerging from the adjoining building gates. They came to see what was the problem, and actually smiled. Apparently the thing to do was to turn the steering wheel this way and that, while simultaneously fiddling with the key in the ignition. I hadn't known the "simultaneous" part....

And suddenly the ignition lights came on, the radio started humming, and the folks explained this solution to me. In the meanwhile some folks who were supposed to be rushing, arrived, and there was some discussion with gestures, about how things are inside, and why the thing locks up.

Turns out that one way to avoid such goof ups, is to ensure, that every time you park the car, the wheels are pointed straight ahead. There is nothing automatic about the locking, but it is a simple mechanical movement.

Yes , the new car has many things with power settings, which have made driving easier, and more enjoyable. But it is more of a black box than the old car, where you opened the hood /bonnet at the drop of a hat and started fiddling around with things.

It also has a message .

Life , in these modern times, allows us to use lots of contraptions that make our life easy. There are a lot of variables in life, that take on different values for us. Certain values these variables take, can be problematic for us , or maybe sometimes even good for us.

But in the euphoria of life-becoming-easy, it is imperative , that we remember, that keeping things straight and simple (like my car wheels) , is often the solution.....

(Just to set records straight, and just like they showed when Kate Middleton and her dad left for the Abbey, I was escorted by a twowheeler (Bajaj M-80) all the way home ....:-))....).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dabbling in Commerce in my old age

Many years ago, 45 to be precise, my mother and I climbed up the stairs to the hallowed precincts of the Directorate of Technical Education of our State, a stately Victorian edifice standing in great eminence, next to some other similarly blessed buildings in South Mumbai. I had just finished high school, and would be starting college, and everyone in those days did not think beyond Arts/Sciences,Engineering/Medicine, and what is still called "Commerce".

They (the DTE), offered a vocational aptitude test, my folks thought someone needed to check my real aptitude, as I had too many clashing interests, and so I did the test the same day, those being happier days without waiting lists, and with officials who had all the time in the world for you. I was called the next day, my results analysed, and was told that I could probably handle Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Arts was a remote possibility, but Commerce was a complete disaster as far as I was concerned.

It so happened that I chose Science in College. Then IT when I worked. Retirement threw me into the Humanities/Arts as blogging happened. Medicine has always lurked in the background as my blog readers suspect.

And so, I was amazed when I suddenly got an email from Harish of Blogadda saying that a blogpost of mine was selected to appear in "Kaizen", the annual magazine of the Commerce Society of the Hindu College, of Delhi University. And they wanted my permission to use a specific post.

("I am pleased to inform you that your post http://kaimhanta.blogspot.com/2011/02/work-and-life-in-21st-century.html is among the 5 posts we have selected for HIndu College - Department of Commerce, yearly magazine. Your name and your blog URL will be mentioned along with the article. We need your permission before we send in your entry latest by 5 pm. Do let me know ASAP. )

Two days ago, a courier fellow suddenly landed up with a certificate and two copies of , Juvenilia , the Hindu College Commerce Society magazine.

I've just looked through it, and am delighted to see my stuff in a Commerce College magazine.

They also sent me a certificate , just in case all those guys who predicted disaster for me 45 years ago , in Commerce , were still around.

Today, the distinctions between fields have blurred. Scientists are getting arty, Artistic folks are getting geeky, Geeky folks are getting poetic, and so on. Today's children have more choices in college, and in subjects for graduation.

I've tried dabbling in most other subjects, sometimes even surreptitiously, under pseudonyms.

Thanks to Blogadda, (and I haven't the foggiest idea on why my post was chosen to appear in a commerce college magazine), my education is now well rounded once again .

(I can see some secretly guffawing and saying it's me , and not my education that's well rounded).

Never mind.

Monday, May 09, 2011


Well, it has nothing to do with a musical evening .

Lest anyone think this is a highly culture specific musical post , let me hasten to add that this is really a play on the words which are the names of the two bloggers who met for the first time together for a lunch. "Sur " is probably a misnomer short form, for someone who moves more like a Wilambit Alaap (kind of slow moving tired tune), and anyone playing word association is not likely to say my name with alacrity when you mention "Sur".

And the blogger friend who I met for lunch was Sandhya . From Bengaluru. I know Sandhya means "evening".

And we met at noon. But it's OK.

I just thought it was a great blog post title. ( As Shobha De would say, "Khair"....)....

We must have reached within 10 minutes of each other from opposite areas of Mumbai. I still have to figure out whether we radiate halos or our fingers look different from all the typing we do, or we have weird eye shapes from squinting at the screen, but we immediately recognised each other. Her little one accompanied her, and after many many years, I saw someone in two tight pigtails, like we had in our time, in school.

There was this place in the hugely spread out Nirmal Lifestyle Mall, that advertised Aamras Puri, along with assorted types of food with a southern touch, and we all went in. We must have been very early, because we had a choice of seating, and thanks to my limited knowledge of south Indian food beyond Idlies, Dosas, Uthhappams , Sandhya did the honors. Chettinad curry, neer dosas , set dosas, while somebody's eyes twinkled at the sight of a huge bowl of aamras on one side.

There was something to twinkle about. The logic behind this was not clear to me, but the white bowl in which the aamras came had a skewed surface. It was plainly a crooked bowl, where they ran out of clay while on the wheel. (I beg your pardon, maybe it's modern design).....Depending on where you viewed it from, you thought the bowl was really full, or that someone was trying to fool you . Makes it a bit dicey for those who like to view things as half full or half empty.

I also learnt how some folks get the totally erroneous impression that I do art. (!), while I go berserk doing anatomically out-of-proportion figures in Warli art, and show them doing modern things like sitting with laptops, and clicking photos.

Sandhya had brought two wonderful books
for me on Calligraphy and Designing Covers ! Aksharakruti by Achyut Palav and Think Visual by Shantaram Pawar ! A real treasure trove!

Thank you, Sandhya !

Lots of talk, indulging in whims of the little one, who was being pretty creative herself, making holes in tops of purees and dropping aamras through it, like in pani puris; though we never reached the stage of trying to eat a massive one that would collapse under its own weight of aamras.

I heard about some common bloggers from Bengaluru we both know, all beginning with S of course, who Sandhya is friends with. (Some non blogger friends on Facebook, commented with names like Shilpa Shetty, Sheila Dixit, and Sridevi , when they were trying to guess the S name (that I was lunching with); and it's clear that these page 3 entities are not a patch on all my S friends . #Just saying ...)

Like always, there was no dearth of stuff to talk about. I have spent part of my life in the area where her folks live, and , as it happens, it turned out that she went to college with someone I know.

It was time to get out of the fancy AC environs and do some Mumbai stuff . There was a fellow doing Ice Golas with Gloves . And you could get lip smacking flavors to go with it. A cousin had landed up to meet the little one, and their enjoyment of these ice golas, and the thin line of "lipstick" lining their lips after slurping the last of the syrupy stuff reminded me of the time we would eat paan as children and refuse to brush teeth afterwards because the lips looked like you had applied lipstick (and makeup was a big no-no in school then)....

I was having an Ice Gola after ages. It seems Sandhya had been here a few days earlier and this guy had her stamp of approval.

And so we slurped, and sipped, and talked , and like all ladies who cannot resist big signs saying "Today Only", we decided to do a round of the supermarket place behind us, after the kids had left to go elsewhere.

Lots of things like Pairi Mangoes, Collocassia leaves , fruits with competitive prices, freshly baked garlic bread and stuff, was purchased, as the two blogger ladies trundled around with their carts.

It was time to leave. Again in opposite directions.

I am totally impressed with Bengaluru blogger folk. Sandhya insisted on carrying my abnormally large carry bag till we were able to find a cart to put it in. One could use the cart all the way to the road outside, and this would make things easy for me, since for sometime now, I havent been on talking terms with the lumbar vertebrae.....

As it happens , always, (but always), we stood around , leaning on carts, talking away about our interests, and as it happens, always, (but always), we had to bid a goodbye. I needed to reach home before the Mumbai traffic started its madness, and she needed to do a couple of family visits before returning home.

Sandhya was in Mumbai visiting her folks. Married daughters coming home in their kids' summer holidays to visit their maternal homes is a BIG thing , particularly when they live some distance away like this.

The maternal home or maika , is "maher" in Marathi, and married girls, returning so, on such an annual visit are called "mahervasheeNs" in my language.

Being of a kind of ideal age right now (mother of a daughter of marriageable age and so on), I thought this was an excellent opportunity to welcome a blogging mahervasheeN.....

Welcome home, Sandhya !

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Medication and Sense

Besides enjoying writing a bit of prose, and foisting poetry on unsuspecting individuals, word got around from an ex-colleague that I also have a thyroid website. Nothing out of this world, but something that happened, because, 10 years ago, (a) I had collected tons of information about the thyroid for personal reasons, and (b) a geeky chap who sat next to me at work, inspired me to write HTML from scratch and make a website, in those, pre-blogging, pre facebook and nontwittering days. (When I retired, it shifted , along with me , to blogspot).

The reason it comes to mind, is I was stopped by someone and asked about this. Out of a sense of altruism, I asked if the person was a case of hypo or hyperthyroid, and was completely aghast to know that the person was diagnosed , taking meds, but couldn't be bothered to find out if the condition was hyper or hypothyroid, and offered to show me the test readings. Much like a person habituated to AC 4-wheel drives, professing ignorance about, say, the Mumbai buses. Naturally, I declined.

There is a similar attitude amongst those taking a variety of daily medication. They take "green pills" and "yellow and grey capsules" but are supremely unconcerned about names and dosages. And very often, the more educated the person, the more careless the attitude.

Sometimes , this careless and so called unconcerned attitude is seen , even amongst those whose vocation it is to sell medicine.

A few years ago, my father was bedridden , and my son went down to spend a few days with him before leaving for higher studies abroad. I was the sole caretaker , and was in a permanent state of travel between Mumbai and Pune, looking after two abodes, , and there were two trained attendant ladies doing shift duty, attending to my father, along with several normal house staff, including our trusted live-in help for over 50 years. During my son's visit, one of the ladies had a headache coming on, and asked and went downstairs to the chemist to buy some meds, while my son sat with his grandfather. She soon returned, and got herself a glass of water, and swallowed the pill. After which all hell broke loose.

She suddenly collapsed and slipped to the floor, and lay inert. No amount of sprinkling water, offering sugar water to drink, slapping the face etc, elicited a response, and so my son organized help, got the car ready, and bundled the lady off to the hospital after checking with her parent agency (that sent her to us ). My father did not use a car, and it was providence that my son was there, with transport, so that the lady got immediate help. The agency people also landed up there, and we were wondering the next day, what was happening, when the lady herself, comes up the stairs!

Turns out that she had asked the pharmacist for some headache meds, there were many people at the counter, and she probably picked up something meant for someone else. Maybe a diabetic medication, who knows. So much for careless dispensing. But what if it was psychotropic medicine, what if it was blood pressure medicine, anything could have happened.

But when things happen due to meds given by the doctor himself, things get a bit serious.

Two days ago, my household help, S., about whom I have blogged many times, came to work, coughing away, eyes red, with a splitting headache, and a body racked with pain. She often asks me for paracetamol(tylenol), but this time she had been to the doctor the previous evening and he had given her some yellow capsules. Everytime she took one, she said, she felt as if her head was vibrating. Things were getting alarming. I offered her some hot nicely sugared tea with milk and a fresh chapati thinking, maybe, she had taken stuff on an empty stomach, asked her to take the day off and she left.

Next thing I heard was that she had just managed to cross the heavily trafficked road outside, before she simply collapsed. People ran, someone called her sons, and someone else offered her sugar water, after which she revived, and was helped home.

The story turned out to be, that sundry general doctors, near where she stayed, were routinely prescribing something called levofloxacin, a fluoroquinone, ( for a population that was suffering from some infectious disease), that was known to have side effects, like red eyes, cough collecting in the chest, and lowering of blood sugar. No one had told her that. No one even checked her sugar levels. There was no written prescription, as the doc himself counted the capsules and gave them to the patients. I told her son about this, and instructed him to go tell the doctor about this. She also now carries a bottle of glucose water with her on her way to work, where she must walk in the summer sun.

But think of those who will collapse in the middle of the road, or have some other problem because of this blatantly given medicine, and have no one to help.

I recently read in the paper the story about an old man, a tailor, the only earning member of his family, who was prescribed , on paper, a blood pressure medication. The pharmacist gave him methotrexate, a cancer medication. Two days later, the poor man broke out into a deadly rash, collapsed, and died on admission to a hospital.

These kind of things are not just India specific. A pregnant lady in Colorado, USA, was prescribed methotrexate, which she took. It causes non-surgical abortion, , but she continues to be prgenant, and no one knows what is happening.

Fingers will be pointed, people will blame doctors, their illegible writing, the super busy pharmacist, the urge to sell a more expensive drug, the patient's simple , educated but non-medical mind, and the tendency to regard pharmacists as next in line to doctors.

But the problem is us. We do not respect our bodies. And we are careless about what we put into it. Food, drink or medication. The patient being educated has nothing to do with it. The doctor could either improve his handwriting, or start typing the prescription on a computer system. The patient needs to come back and confirm with the doctor about the medicine. When medicines are being handed out by the doctor himself, like in S's case, just 5 minutes more explaining the possible side effects would change a life.

We do not have a system or , even a habit, of reading ingredients of a medication. Or checking the dosage. So many of us just blindly take the medication from the shiny strips. I wonder how many of us read the little paper that often comes inside a medication packaging that tells us where the medication should not be used, or should be used with caution. Everyone has a cell phone, doctors have several, but no one wants to call the doctor , when in doubt, before buying, what could be a wrong medication. And all this holds for "educated people" too.

And so I often get the feeling that we as a society , have taken a huge leap somewhere, much like someone earning a huge lottery. We forgot the learning that happens, when life progresses at a natural slower pace. And we then tend to try everything new immediately.

In each strata of society this attitude manifests itself. The higher class educated types, reveling in the ignorance of minor things like their medications, think it infra-dig to worry about their bodies, and leave it to the n-star hospital doctors, something that enhances their status in their own myopic view. The pharmacy folks , probably carelessly read things in the big hurry to maximise sales; possibly even employ untrained folks in the shop.

And doctors serving large populations, let patients like my household help, stagger through their drug side effects, and only providence allows them a life, as they cross an arterial heavy traffic road, and then collapse .

But it is worrisome. What use is science , and learning, and having a large pool of technical talent, if communication abilities are non existent ? And nobody has the time to listen ?

So typical of Mumbai, where we are now the third most expensive city in the world, (real estate wise) , but have infrastructure that is at least 25 years behind. Inefficient communication channels.

And the knowledge vehicle goes further and further, speeding....

To oblivion ? Who knows ?