Sunday, June 26, 2011

An eternal S-walk.....

No, this is not about the Slutwalk likely to happen in our capital.

This is more about , my household help S., and her eternal trudge , to get her life organized, so her children can get what she never got.

I've blogged several times about S. She is my household help for the last 25 years. Sometimes I think she is a lady ahead of her times. Illiterate, but very smart in a native kind of gutsy way, she was married off early, had 3 sons , 1 daughter, all the while suffering at the hands of a drunkard, violent, useless husband. Her parents, went and brought home their daughter (with kids) and gave her a life. Very revolutionary for those days.

Today she has a 2.5 room very small tenement which is her own, and she, her 3 sons, 1 daughter (all adults), three daughter-in-laws, and 3 grandchildren, stay there, possibly in willful dynamic equilibrium. She educated her kids, who now work. Her daughters-in-law are both more educated than their respective husbands, no one discusses egos, because everyone is so happy and busy with life and S. is very proud of them.

Very clearly, this matchbox of a house is not going to be enough . The grandchildren are growing up. Recently, S heard about a special government scheme for folks from the Scheduled Caste Category (she belongs) , where, those below a certain yearly income could register for and be allotted, a tenement which would be heavily subsidized by the government.

The main thing you needed for this is a "caste certificate". She has hers, because her late father, who worked in an academic institute as a mason's helper, was very aware of such things, and got hers made, a long time ago. The main thing required there is details about the father. Amazingly , no caste information about the mother is asked for.

S., has put in her application for the tenement because she qualifies income wise. She now wants her adult children to apply, particularly her daughter, who is back after being cheated in a marriage, and now works in a women's hostel cafeteria.

S's children studied up to the 7th grade elsewhere away from Mumbai. The thing is to get their school leaving records which might have a record of caste. They also need their father's details. A father, who has not bothered to look up his children for the last 20 years.

S, needs to go to Pune to make some application , and then go to her husband's village, to check out records with the local authority, the Talathi. Records may or may not be there. She doesn't think her husband will help or will even be bothered. The Talathi will probably have to be paid a price for allowing folks to peruse his records. S knows all this because a relative did this kind of thing in his village.

And so S., suddenly disappeared last week, without informing me , and landed back over the weekend. She occasionally does this after informing me , when she has to attend a court case in Pune, where she is trying to oust a fellow who is occupying a room belonging to her in Pune, and claims it is his, and she has a lady lawyer helping her.

When she told me about this tenement scheme and the caste certificates, I had asked her to check with the same lawyer lady , for help regarding this. Last week, S., took that to heart,and rushed off with her own documents to check with the lawyer. She particularly wants her daughter to apply for a place, so she has some security , post-S.

After doing her own S-walk, nay, hard S-trudge, to some old schools and stuff, she has convinced the lawyer to handle this for her and put in applications for caste certificates for the children. Which will mean lawyer fees, some more trips on demand to Pune, but this is any day better than a lone woman battling out the bureaucracy in the village. Those of us who she assists in housework on a daily basis, have agreed to help her out financially with the fees and stuff.

The irony is, that the mother who gave birth , nurtured, and educated her children single handedly working 7 days a week, 365 days a year does not count here at all. Else the children could have got their certificates based on hers. The government in all its patriarchal "wisdom" insists on the father's caste certificate. And here is a good for nothing father, who really doesn't deserve either S., or the wonderful children.

I hear about people who got false certificates made to enable college admissions in a special quota, and I recently read about the false caste certificate scam in New Delhi, where people paid 5 lakhs (5,00,000) for such false certificates, and supposedly the perpetrators of this scam have been arrested. I wonder if anyone even asks for the father's details here, other than name.

And then I wonder, why the mother's name and certificate is not enough in such cases. Her children work in places where missing a day means a cut in salary. Much as they want they cannot accompany her everywhere.

A President, a ruling party chairperson, an opposition leader in Parliament, all women. Four Chief Minsiters of states, all women. Day in and day out they spout forth on corruption, power, scams, and when they have finished talking about large sums of black money, they raise the gas prices and talk about the Aam Aadmi (~common man).

I wish someone thinks about the ordinary woman, makes laws that are useful to her, and educates her truthfully about them.

I wonder if I have my information wrong. I know that today, particularly for schools admissions and stuff a mother's signature is acceptable and on par with a father's. Maybe there has been an update on the rule for caste certificates.

Until then, the S-walk continues, the saree wrapped on both shoulders, pallu covering her head, changing buses and trains in the thick of rain and traffic, standing endlessly outside government offices, with papers in an old cellophane bag, accompanying the lawyer lady, doing affidavits, giving a thumbprint whenever asked.

So many S-walks over the years. So many obstacles.

But she learns from each.

She holds her head high. This is one walk I support.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Post-Chew factor

I did a post on chewing gum once. Waxed , (what I thought, was ) eloquent , on the attitude, the poses, the defiance, and assorted observations peripheral to the actual mechanical action. Turns out that I was really only half informed.

The proof of the gum is not in the chewing but in the post-spit utility.

Chewing gum has amazing uses, after you have chewed it copiously.

You can fix leaking radiators with chewing gum; if you are unable to afford a stapler, two sheets of some important paper can be held together in gummy glory; you can use it as window putty to seal gaps in windows; you can use it as a retrieval technology, by applying it to the end of a stick , which is then used to pick up things. It is also touted to improve long term and short term memory if chewed constantly, and also touted a s a digestive aid, that gets the saliva going. And just in case you are the artistic type, nicely chewed gum, is often amenable to be used as sculpture material.

In short, its adhesive properties are amazing.

Some one else has been thinking along these lines too.

Ten months ago, our Union Finance Minister came to know about 16 places in his office which looked like something had been stuck there with an "adhesive". Since the choice of rooms and offices was of some significance, he wrote to the PM, and asked him to conduct , possibly a secret enquiry, about this. Presumably this letter was not secret, and the secret enquiry was actually known to some folks, because soon after some unusual non-routine sleuthing folks descended down to check out the 16 places, they found only the adhesive. With markings on it to indicate that something with sharp edges was embedded there, earlier.

The country's official premier investigative agency, which was hitherto busy with 2G scams and analysing secret phone conversations, rushed over to investigate, and announced recently, that this was all much ado about nothing, and the stuff was actually chewing gum, stuck all across important desks and rooms.

Which makes you wonder. Why the embedded entities are not being mentioned.

Who visits the Minister ? Easily, that is ? Who is on great and backslapping terms with the assistants to the minister ? Do well known corporate folks walk in to see the Minister chewing gum on the side ? Or is it some everyday ministry person who comes to the conference room , no questions asked, and quietly sticks a heavily chewed wad beneath the table ? Can you imagine a captain of industry leaning over to respectfully shake hands with the minister, while the other hand slips and sticks something under the table as he uses it for support ? Or an assistant sort of letting a paper fall, and bending to pick it up, and doing the stuff with the chewing gum, as the important people smile and praise each other and sip tea ?

Who has been hiring the cleaning staff at the ministry ? Or is it someone so well known to everyone, that he never undergoes a security check, forget anyone asking him to open his mouth and do "aaaaah" !

September 2010 onwards, the ministry is probably , as they say, "seized" of matters relating to the budget, which is announced on Feb 28 every year. So it might be interesting to find out who visited the place.

It might also be interesting to find out if chewing gum played an important part in the 2G scam wire taps that introduced us to glamorous folks in high places, some of whom could be chewing gum with extra sticky properties.

Could this chewing gum thing be a smart move from folks trying to avoid entry security checks in government offices ? I've seen beeping doors , frisking folks and angry visitors, but maybe its time to now ask people to open their mouths, and do aah; confiscate any gum they may be chewing; and check their bags for more chewing gum.

Should the finance minister now tax chewing gum , in the next budget ? Is Wrigleys Chewing Gum company going through bad times, and is it being taken over by a powerful Reliable Indian company ?

Given that we have so many government sport functionaries who hold on to posts for more than 25 years (and counting), should someone investigate the role of chewing gum on chair surfaces ?

Why do I sense a clamour in Parliament for subsidised chewing gum for MP's? Is a new Chewing Gum factory happening in Amethi ? And is the Bharatiya Janata Party demanding a paan flavored chewing gum ?

Is Jairam Ramesh about to fund some research on biodegradable chewing gum ? Given that he has visions of so many powerful folks chewing and chewing away and then spitting ?

Are government cars being checked for chewing gum ? Wouldn't someone like to know what Minister A said to Minister B while returning from Jantar mantar ?

Are the Chinese already ahead in the field of Chewing gum detectors ? Is some minister's uncles' daughter-n-law's first cousin an importer of these ? Is someone going to make a huge killing in the supply of Chewing Gum detectors, which might be now mandatory in all government offices ?

Will these go the way of the CCTV's installed everywhere, which mostly don't work when you want them to ?

But maybe, just maybe, the chewing gum drama has highlighted something good.

Turns out that there is also a chewing gum meant for people addicted to cigarette smoking. (Though the government has backtracked on its promise to display pictures of diseased organs and cancer on cigarette packs, under pressure of the Tobacco lobby). This is being used all over the world as Nicotine Replacement Therapy(NRT). But it is expensive in India, and not yet part of the Tobacco Control Program. A May 2011 (note the timing) news report says that the Union health ministry is planning to ask National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority to subsidize the price of nicotine chewing gums. We must be grateful for small things. Like chewing gum.

Don't know who manufactures it or what creative use will be thought of for this chewing gum.

Never thought there would be a Chewing Gum Crisis in government. But someone, somewhere has all the removed contraptions that were embedded in the 16 chewed pieces of gum stuck under the furniture in the Minister's Office.

Just wondering what's in those tapped conversations, and when someone might expose them.

Election time coming soon. Stay tuned for some sticky news.

P. S. Non political types wondering about artistic uses of spitting chewing gum, may see this .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Saga of the Wrong Turn !

And hereby hangs a tale of my tangles with the bureaucracy, popularly known as Babudom.

(The photo in the diagram shows the movement on the bridge OVER the LBS Marg )



I frequently travel the Eastern Express Highway , and take a left turn to go home over the LBS Marg, an old arterial road over which the new fly-over goes. I have often noticed a signage (as you approach the flyover) there that instructs you to turn right for a place called Mulund. (An inconspicious much smaller blue board, away to one side (right) , asks you to kind of veer leftward for LBS Marg; no mention of where you can go from there )

A normal, non genius, non telepathic human would keep to the right. And be disgusted to find out that there was no right turn on the flyover, and once you crossed over the LBS Marg , Mulund was a gone case.

It occurred to me that someone should indicate that it was necessary to keep left, exit the flyover on to LBS Marg below, and then take a right turn , to go to Mulund (which was how all normal stupid humans went to Mulund in the pre-flyover technologically backward days.).

Without this , a newcomer to this area, would brave the unruly traffic to keep right, and look for a right turn to Mulund that would never come.

And so I took a picture (shown above) and emailed it to the Joint Commissioner of Police(traffic). I reproduce the communications below:

----------------------------------------------me to jcptraffic------
dateMon, Feb 28, 2011 at 4:49 PM
subjecterroneous directions on important road

Dear Shri Vivek Phansalkar Sir,

I have lived in this Powai area for the last 33 years, and have occasion to travel home often from the Eastern express Highway turnoff for Kanjurnarg.

While travelling towards Powai, and just before the bridge over LBS Marg at Gandhi Nagar, they have put up very prominent sign saying " Mulund " along with a right arrow.

This is actually a wrong sign and has caused many problems.

This is a misleading sign, that would make motorists think that there is a turning up ahead on the right, and that they should keep right.

In reality, they need to keep in the left most lane and exit left below and before the bridge on LBS Marg , from where they need to take a right turn.

The sign should actually say , "Mulund : keep left, and exit"

I am enclosing a picture of the mislleading sign taken while travelling from the Eastern Express Highway to Powai.

I would be grateful if you could actually travel and see this for yourself, and arrange to rectify the matter at an early date.

Thank you.

---------------------------------------reply from jcptraffic to me----

fromVivek Phansalkar, Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic
dateSat, Mar 5, 2011 at 2:03 PM
subjectReply to your mail dated 28th Feb, 2011


Thanks for your email.

I've taken note of it and directed my office to do the needful. It will be
communicated to MMRDA/MCGM (agency concerned) to effect necessary changes
in the signages.


Vivek Phansalkar,
Joint Commissioner of Police,
Traffic, Mumbai

-----------------------------------------------ghatkopar police to me --------------------
dateTue, Jun 14, 2011 at 6:45 PM
subjectProminent sign saying “Mulund” along with a right arrow at JVLR Bridge.

Respected Madam,
Kindly refer to your email Dtd. 28/02/2011 with regard to very
prominent sign saying “Mulund” along with a right arrow at
JVLR Bridge.
In this connection it is informed that we persued the matter
to M.S.R.D.C. When Executive Engineer Shri.Pampanvar visited
the site and inspected the Board and cleared that the said
sign is right, because it is presumed that there is “No Right
Turn” after flyover at anywhere.So motorist should keep this
in mind while passing through and also he further cleared that
they clearly mentioned “Use Flyover”below the name
So in case of any doubt or complaint you are requested to
contact M.S.R.D.C.
Thanks for your kind co-operation.

Ghatkopar Traffic Chowky,

--------------------------------------------------my reply-----

This is not acceptable to me. As a taxpayer , I insist on proper signs.

If I am travelling from eastern express Highway to Powai for the first time , how can I presume whether there is a right turn or no ? If I do not know where Mulund is, being a first time driver there, should not there be a guiding sign ? The sign should clearly show a left exit to LBS Marg followed by a right turn towards Mulund. Please let me know how I can contact the concerned person at MSRDC.

If all signs are based on what motorists "presume", why are we not allowed to park anywhere we "presume" across Mumbai ?

Kindly advise.

mrs xxx

-----------------------------------------------------end of head banging frustrated emails---

Questions :

1. What happens if it is a first time visitor to Mumbai, who wants to go to an unknown destination Mulund ?

2. Who presumes ? The MSRDC expert, the police, the MMRDA or the first time visitor who gets an sudden epiphany about Mumbai roads ?

3. "it is clearly mentioned "Use Flyover" for Jogeshwari ".....

Are Mumbai roadsigns only for people who have been around Mumbai before ? Do we have no thought for troubles faced by a person coming into Mumbai for the first time ?

If I am visiting Mumbai for the first time, and dont know where Jogeshwari is with respect to where I need to go, eg Mulund, does it help to suddenly confuse me with other names ? Does this tell me anything about other points west where the flyover may take me , like Andheri, Marol, SEEPZ, Vile Parle etc etc ?

4. Who decides Mumbai signages ? Is there any testing done with signages ? And is the testing necessarily done by someone who is not involved in the signage placement ?

Years ago when I was in IT, it was impressed on us that software testing was done by people other than the people who wrote the software .

This is true regardless of whether you are doing IT, civil construction, or judging a bharatnatyam dance show.

How many more years of communications must I dedicate myself to before someone corrects this ? Given the abyssymal construction quality (recent potholes on highly touted Lalbaug flyover a day after CM inaugurated it; enquiry ordered) of Mumbai roads, can I hope to have this problem rectified in my lifetime ? Unless of course they disable the flyover itself for the usual repairs ?

I am now Googling MSRDC to find out who I must contact there. Any tips welcome.

Stay tuned for the further exciting chapters in the Saga of Wrong Turn !

P. S. Someone mentioned the use of RTI (Right to Information Act) to find out if the folks who designed signage in Mumbai were given any training . If so, where, at what cost, and who were selected for it . If not, why not ?

Why do I want to know ?

I pay Municipal tax, enhanced gas prices 5 times a year (eg this year), consume unjustified extra gas because of traffic hold ups due to unclear signage, not to mention massive wear and tear on the vehicle due to the totally unsatisfactory performance of road repairs department.

Need I say more . I must know where the tax rupees are going.

Those who agree are requested to email the authorities.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thoughts while standing on the threshhold......

There have been some recent posts on the "elderly" and their care. Here and here.

What is as clear as daylight , is the fact that we are today, in India, sandwiched between a generation where elders were always resident with the family, and a generation which has necessarily become more mobile, ambitious, and often given to "valuing" tangibles, at the cost of intangibles.

3 stories . Then reach your own conclusions.

X , was leading a comfortable life , as the wife of Y, who had a very secure respectable job. She was well educated , but thought nothing of acquiring jobs by hanging on to and basking in the shadow of the husband; for such folks, their work doesn't matter , their entire "prestige" and "standing" depends on that of the husband. She ensured she was always treated as her husbands wife and not as "a employee".

At one point , her widowed ma-in-law came to live with them clearly because of some medical situation , and was admitted to a hospital. A special nurse attendant was appointed so madam didn't have to feed, and help her ma-in-law in the hospital. Turns out that X told this nurse, that when the hospital lunch arrived, she was to give the patient only half , and take half for herself ; "why does the old lady need so much" were her words. X would make that mandatory daily trip, smile at he visitors and go home, and folks at work would look on in sympathy as they thought she was at the hospital.

By and by the old lady came home, whereupon she was packed off to an old age home, several miles away. Her granddaughter got married, there were other family celebrations, and she was never brought home. When she passed away, her body was brought home with a great show of sorrow, folks visited, attended the rituals, and it all ended with a great lunch served on the 13th day, in a special hall, attended by folks , some of whom were terribly impressed and some who saw through it all. People always wondered what the husband thought of his own mother being sent away like this. Today, these folks are considered one of the smarter folks who have their lives organized just so, and moving up in the world , themselves now as senior citizens.

P was the only caretaker of her very independent minded parents. She had a slightly specialized job in a big organization, thanks to her earlier work experience in industry, the pay wasn't out of this world, but she enjoyed her job which had other benefits. P's parents lived in another town, and as happens, her elderly father was adamant about living there and not moving in with her.

She had some qualms about possible friction happening in her own house , and when the time came, she managed somehow with immense difficulty till she qualified for early retirement benefits, and for several years alternated between her own house and her father's. Of course , there were full time nurses, and attendants, but they needed supervision, and she was lucky she found good staff. She paid through her nose for those, and was grateful that she had her own resources.

Yes, she lost out on lot of her own family life, a few occasions , and her presence could have possibly been beneficial for a teen aged daughter who sometimes had to manage and decide things on the phone, and by herself. But she travelled, and was there for all the Big days in the family. What made it more easy, was clearly the fact that the husband realized this was necessary, and he co-operated by bringing the family down during festival days and stuff. By and by, several years later, P's father passed away, with P sitting by his side on the fateful night.

Yes, P is not considered a success (in monetary and control terms) , in her field of work, although her capability is known, she was told she was stupid for leaving her job. But she is really unconcerned with all this, and now lives with a certain peace of mind, knowing that she was there for her father, and that her own family has learnt some valuable lessons about old age , from it all.

M never worked outside her house. She was one of two sisters. Her husband had a decent comfortable job, her children did well in school, her situation in life allowed her to enjoy the various regional cultural events that took place and she was happy. Her parents are today in their middle nineties.

Sometime in their early nineties, it looked like they wouldn't be able to stay by themselves in a neighboring town, where she had grown up. And so , she convinced them to move to her house. It was difficult at first, and there was a lot of travelling up and down to leave them back at their own house when they demanded and bringing them back when some health problem demanded it. She first arranged for them to be looked at by her own doctor, a lady , who was able to build confidence in the old folks, treating them like her own parents.

In the last few years, falls and dementia at various levels in both the older folks, have necessitated the hiring of day and night nurse attendants. M continues to go through her life, getting children married, entertaining relatives, organizing for grand children's arrivals, in addition to her own social activities. Her friends know her parents live with her, and are very friendly with them when they visit her house. The parents have attended family functions in wheelchairs, sometimes walking with great assistance; due to the onset of dementia, they sometimes do not recognize the people involved, but at the end of the day, they know that something is being celebrated, that they are wanted, and they enjoy the occasion , the best they can.

The children and children-in-law of the house know when to chip in with physical help , and are always cheerfully on call. M's husband, is grateful that he is in a position to help here as he is entitled to a large house, and earns comfortably; but mostly he helps by not making what could be snide and hurtful comments .

Somewhere at the end of the three stories, what is clear, is, that how X, P and M were brought up, plays a big part in all this.

Both P and M are not overly impressed by glamour or money, though they enjoy providing their children with the sort of things young people enjoy today, within fair limits. They have an ability to decide what is a need and what is a luxury, and come to a conclusion on what they must do. Very clearly, their husbands have , throughout their lives, observed and judged their wives and learned how they think, and it looks like they appreciate it.

In X's case, the husband is a total loss (and gutless, according to me ), but probably very successful in commercial terms, something X sets great store by. Both P and M, had older parents-in-law, who they took care off in their last days. Maybe their husbands appreciate that. The husbands may not be saints and paragons, but they see that a parent is a parent, and needs the same care.

At the end of the day, one more younger generation learns what to do and what not to do, by observing folks in the family.

Yes, home care costs money, so does institutional care.

What matters is whether you look upon it as a debit to your fortune, or a credit to someone who taught you what life is.

Whether you look upon folks as golden assets, or medical liabilities.

In the end , it is all about balancing. Your life. In your own way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Special Days- 2

We have a new Day .

Rahul Gandhi's birthday, will now be celebrated countrywide as Farmer's Right's Day, as per his party's dictats.

This has given me so many ideas. For so many potential days that we can celebrate with appropriate celebrations.

Many moons ago I wrote a post on Special Days, which were actually Mumbai Centric and dedicated to folks like bus conductors and bhajiwalis.

Nothing happened and no one celebrated such things. Maybe one needs to think on a wider and possibly grander scale, like the aforementioned Farmers Rights Day.

Like :

Mukesh Ambani's birthday : to be celebrated as Reliable Tower Rights Day. Folks in power can visit illegal slums, construct illegal high podiums and give speeches about how they need votes and support in return for some virtual bathrooms and toilets that they plan to gift, once the high command agrees..

Sharad Pawar's Birthday : National Fence Sitters Day. This will be be celebrated by sitting on a fence and watching cricket. Flat top fences will be outsourced to some known folks (who will make a killing), to make the sitting and moving more comfortable. Local Baramati grape wine will be on sale for common folks, and on the special occasion of the birthday, the party will decide to change the name of one more station on the Mumbai suburban train network.

Digvijay Singh's birthday : National Abuse Day . This is to be celebrated by giving at least five interviews to TV channels, and calling at least 10 people as "thugs". There is a suggestion that this also be celebrated as a day when one shows off one's connection with celebrities, dead or alive, by recalling one's last communication with them.

Mayawati's birthday : National Elephantine Law and Order Day, This is to be celebrated by allocating elephants to the various police thanas. An amazing way of celebrating slow moving cases pertaining to Law and Order. The common man will celebrate it by staying out of town, or even migrating.

Lalu Prasad's Birthday : National Alu Samosa and Milk Day. One of the more popular celebrations, the nation will celebrate it by every household making Alu Samosa's, and drinking a glass of milk. Just for this one day, the government will train its permanently blinded eye to the hoarding of potatoes in the previous weeks, and the rampant adulteration of milk, the supply of which has decreased due to missing Fodder.

Salman Khan's Birthday : National Barechested Police Dance Day . Ever since his movie Dabang got a National award in the Family Entertainment category, folks have been itching to wear uncomfortable police uniforms, remove shirts and dance, since it seems to yield dividends. The only folks unhappy about this are the Mumbai Police , who anyway face crimes bare chested (idiomatically) , since some one's made a total mess of purchasing bullet proof jackets for them all these years....

Karunanidhi's Birthday : National Crore Movement Day. Contrary to what people think, this is not a Tamil Movie Dance move. This day is to be celebrated by ordinary folks being given jobs by Kalaignar TV, consequent to the huge funds received by the Crown Princess Kani. Rumor has it that opposition parties loyal to another Chennai film person had infiltrated the crowds this year.

Baba Ramdev's birthday : National Fast-Fast Day . On this day, central ministers will restlessly pace at Delhi airport, and garland the first saffron colored person who emerges, in what will then be considered as an amazing revolutionary gesture. Claridges Hotel, Delhi will serve free coffee to everyone that day. Most ordinary people , will practice their Yoga exercises in the morning, and dedicate the rest of the day to learning how to ward off lathi blows. Special training will be imparted by police across the nation. No one will really fast on this day, but people will celebrate by drinking a glass of fruit juice together. Given that this is Kalyug, the possibility of people adding stuff to fruit juice cannot be denied.

Suresh Kalmadi's Birthday : National Deep Pocket Day . This will be a fun celebration, with millions of folks wearing trousers with deep pockets and walking around, jingling the copious amount of small change inside, singing, with great gusto, "Thembe Thembe Tale Sache " which means that "A massive lake happens from small small drops of water".

Some tailors in the good books of the ruling party are supposed to have made a killing, replacing pockets in white pajamas. The chairman of the National Hide-and-Seek Games Association will address a rally of all the previous Hide and Seek champions outside Tihar Residency, New Delhi. Naturally, with the dearth of actual small change in the market, as far as the ordinary man is concerned, it is rumored that some folks are hoarding small change, and the government is seized with the matter and may now decide to declare 5 rupee coins null and void. My bhajiwalla is worried.

It suddenly occurred to me, as to , how and why, anyone could have a Day named after them. And so I studied and did research on how our weekdays got their names.

The Greeks , Romans and Germanic people made things quite confusing by naming the days of the week after their Gods, where the same Gods were called by different names. Then the "old Germanic English" took over , keeping the connections to the old names.

So Sunday was named after Old English sunnandæg "day of the sun".

Monday was named after Old English mon(an)dæg "day of the moon".

Tuesday was named after Old English tiwesdæg "Tiw's (Tiu's) day, and Tiu (Twia) is the English/Germanic god of war and the sky. He is identified with the Norse god Tyr.

Wednesday was named after Old English wodnesdæg "Woden's day", and Woden is the chief Anglo-Saxon/Teutonic god, and means "violently insane". He is identified with the Norse Odin.

Thursday was named after Old English thunresdæg "thunder's day" and Thor is the Norse god of thunder.

Friday was named after Old English frigedæg "Frigg's day" composed of Frige + dæg "day", and what is most interesting, is that Frigg (Frigga) is the Teutonic goddess of clouds, the sky, the Norse goddess of love and the heavens and the wife of Odin, the guy after whom Wednesday is named. !!

Saturday has some boring precedent having to do with Saturn.

But what is terribly revealing, is that nepotism surely existed while naming Wednesday and Friday, even in those days.

I may be wrong but something about naming days after Odin(Wednesday) and Frigga(Friday) rings a loud bell......

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Depends from where you look.....

I've just had a great time reading through this and this post .

About perceptions that people in western countries have of India. Even perceptions that folks with Indian parentage but born-and-brought-up-abroad continue to have, about India.

Sometimes these perceptions have an envelope of "class"; Which is not to say, that there is anything classy associated with the perception. It is to say, that the perceiving individual is a class conscious individual, that gives him a slightly altered view.

We spent a year in Germany in the very early nineties. Lived in what the Germans call a "village" (and we would call a small township) outside Karlsruhe. The children were very young, and both of them (12 and 5) picked up German very fast, with the younger one even learning the finer points of the local dialect, possibly because she tended to fight in the local language with the big boy in their kindergaarten class who didn't believe in sharing turns on the slide and swings. I learnt sufficient German to allow me to get along.

Two instances.

Shopping at the smaller local supermarket, my clothes, language, and predominantly vegetarian shopping in a country bathed in beer , meat and potatoes, always drew attention. One day, I heard someone call out and ask if I was the "lady from India", and I turned to meet a cheerful lady who, it turned out, was part of a German ladies group that met once a week to practice their English. She asked if I was interested in joining, because she thought my English was very good, and they wanted to practice with someone. Of course I was interested, because it introduced me to the local folks, and I loved to make friends.

The most "accepting" of our differences in culture, were those ladies that came from academics, and those whose children had travelled to third world countries, and maybe some ladies who had travelled in Asia as part of their Church groups . I was never , ever asked about snake charmers, elephants, et al.

One day, as was usual on weekends, I was at the Spielenplatz (Play-Park) near the University, with my daughter, who was having a grand time swinging, running, and sliding across stuff, whooping it up, while I waited on a bench, for her father to join us from an errand. My saree would often attract curious stares , and one hefty looking mustachioed person got into a conversation with me . Me in broken German, with a fine random attachment of my own words, possibly killing the grammar, and he being very nice, about talking slowly in German, so I could understand.

He wanted to know if I was there under "asyl" something. I realized, that he was asking whether we were in the country under some asylum deal. (The newspapers were full of it). There were strong views on this in the country.

His attitude was a kind of demanding demeanour mixed with a be-polite-to-the lady type thing. Naturally, besides, shaking my head, and answering calls from my daughter, I explained to the chap that the husband was on a visiting academic assignment at the "Universitaet". ("Besukhen Professor" was what I said. Later on found it was the correct phrase.).

There was a sea change in the attitude of the chap. Academics are highly regarded in the western world (More about what happens regarding that in India, in another post). He was suddenly all proper and respectful, smiling at the daughter, complimenting her about her German. He was even more impressed when I told him that we would be returning within a month, on completion of a year long assignment. I often wonder , what the person's attitude would have been, had he found out that we were say, a family of plumber, or electrician, or a mechanic .

Back in India, "class" as we know it, takes a reasonable back seat, once the person is perceived as having an amazingly fair complexion.

In the early seventies, I returned home from graduate studies in the US , and before beginning work, went on a trip to North India, with my old American roommate from the University , who was visiting us in Mumbai, with her husband.

Indian woman of marriageable age, wearing pants, and travelling with a foreigner looking couple, and folks in smaller places, including trains would get curious. Delhi was without too many episodes , but we visited Agra and were supposed to fly to Jaipur in the evening.

Flying wasn't as common then (1972) , and airports were rather small. At least at Agra. There was actually a regular fruit stall inside the airport, with stuff displayed in descending layers, the bhaiyya sitting in the middle etc. I went by to buy some fruit as the flight was delayed . (!)

The bhaiyya, kept alternating his look between me and my friends and the conversation went something like this.

"Who are these people, of yours ?" His friends, fellow fruit sellers,hangers-on are all agog.
"Friends. From college."
"In Amreeka ? (the west is always amreeka).
You went there ? And made friends ? wah !"
"Yes. They are here to see all the wonderful sites."
(Looks them over, then looks at me in a confidential way)
"Are these two married ?"
"How many children ?"
"None so far "
"How come ? don't their families ask ?" he is really worried.
"In their country , this is decided by the two of them; no one else."
"What does he do ? Does she work ?"
"He works for a company, and she is a professor"
"Arre, then they must be earning a lot ? How much ?"
"You know, I don't know. And I wouldn't ask. In their country you don't ask questions like this. It is impolite. Bad manners."
"Just asking, sister. What a shame they have no children !"....
"Where are you travelling now?"
"Jaipur.. So many wonderful things to show them. "

My friends were watching us during this conversation, and were curious about all the looks and stuff they were being bestowed with . I bought some fruit to take with us in case we reached Jaipur late , naturally bargained nicely with the guy regarding the price, now that he and I were "information friends" .

And my friends were totally amazed and entertained to hear how a random fruit seller in a random airport was seriously interested in their status and details.

This, enquiring-after-the-familial/single/married-status-of-foreigners-in-India, is very common, even in educated urban families. (And I am not including in this, the type of visitors to India who flit from one five star to another five star place, and return without ever seeing an Indian style toilet, or eating with their fingers).

This is our form of asking about snake charmers and elephants. An average westerner , sometimes even in proper towns, is not very well informed on non western countries. By contrast I find that folks even in small towns in India keep themselves well informed on worldly things.

The point about Westerners coming to live in India and being called "expatriates" ("expats"), but Indians going to western countries to live being called "Immigrants" is something that had not occurred to me . It is so true.

But maybe I am thick skinned. More likely thick-eared.

Way back in the early eighties, after a summer assignment at one of the US's famous private universities, an offer was made to us requesting us to stay on and continue on a regular basis.

We were honored, but we said, No, Thank you ! and refused and came back home at the start of Fall.

At that time, after we returned (and in some cases, by fellow countryfolks, even before), we were called DUMB and STUPID.


And so I don't worry about things like immigrant and expat anymore.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Soliloquys of a Digital Immigrant....

Have a look at this post on Digital Immigrants, written by a blogger friend.

Unlike the introduction described above , where the company gives a laptop and says "Play around" , my immigration to a digital life, has more in common with the manner in which old immigrants from my native place, Kokan, made their way to Mumbai, the then magic city.

Nobody gave them a ticket, or a ride to the nearest bus stop. (In fact they had no roads, buses or busstops. Just a forest path.) They simply walked and trudged away, keeping away from wild animals, resting under trees, eating tiffins filled with food that would last for a while, with no means of communication to folks back home. Then it was a crowd on a deck of a smelly ship sailing to Mumbai, and a wide eyed arrival at the docks in Mumbai, and being dwarfed by the regality of the buildings in South Mumbai.Then began the slogging, apprenticeships, and evening schools, and an eventual settling down .

My immigration to the digital life began with machines that were taller and wider than me, communicated with a teletype racket, and took their feeds in the form of punched paper cards, which were arranged in a particular order; each one an instruction. A lot of my early digital life was spent carrying boxes of 2000 cards around. Nothing was spiffy and simple. And nothing fitted in my palm or pocket. Tape Drives were housed in what looked like almirahs, discs were in another metal cupboard just around the corner, there were huge consoles that reminded you of control rooms in movies, and line printers clanged away, making so much noise, which everyone tolerated, else you didn't get results to show someone.

By and by PC's happened. Today's kids may not know that we had PC's , PC-XT's , and PC-AT's. All quite bulky compared to today's sleekness and style stuff, but we were eventually terribly delighted to have a keyboard to ourselves :-)

Hardware is easy to get used to; as folks might tell you, as they migrate from wind-up 33 rpm LP record players (with detachable "needles" ) to MP3 players that you wear like a garland. Its the software that became smarter and smarter. Along with it came jargon, acronyms, and random names that had no connection with the contraption. (I remember an HTML editor called Coffee Cup.)

I was once asked (in my working life), to organize and give a bunch of lectures introducing computers to folks who actually ran the nitty gritty stuff on the organization : administration, accounts, security, audit etc. They would be slowly shifting to customized software , but were wary and unaccustomed to thinking machines. The entire thing consisted of a morning set of introductory lectures , and afternoon hands on practice.

They asked questions like "what is this business of "booting" the computer ? Why isn't it as simple as switching on a light ? Booting was explained and taught to us as a bootstrapping methodology that enables us to get the system operational. Try explaining bootstrapping to folks who thought boots were misplaced in the first place, and had no business being connected to computers.

And so , one ended up explaining to folks , that it was much like "kicking" a scooter to start it and get it idling. Just like the scooter kick, aided by fuel air mixtures and a decently adjusted carburettor etc got the scooter idling, offering you chances to decide what you wanted to do (shut it off, put in gear, accelerate in place, etc), you "booted " a computer, so pre programmed compulsory jobs like checking memory , etc could be done, perfect initial conditions could be confirmed, and the computer would reach an "idling" stage, where it waited for instructions from you (the DOS prompt, probably not a favourite of the windowfied folks). This they understood very well, as most folks then commuted by scooter.

Then came the floppy discs. ( I actually wonder if today's digital natives are conversant with what they were , as a matter of digital history.)

After describing "floppy discs" (cupboards with a key to what is where) and directories ( dedicated shelves in the cupboards), some smart folks asked about some errors they had heard people talk about, like "Bad sectors ", on disk. And so you ended up explaining, that just like addresses indicated destinations to postmen, the key of the cupboard(disc) indicated what to look for where. And just like an envelope with an address smudged by rains was difficult to decipher, sometimes the access to the part of the disc that you were looking for couldn't be reached or found. Hence, bad sector.

Then there was the fun during afternoon practicals. Old style officers, heads of sections, all came for it. They had to go through a game where the system asked for your name, and then you had to enter a list of things you wanted to buy from some shop. The concept of hitting "Enter" after typing in something was confusing. So we explained how it was similar to explaining something to someone and asking "Samjha Kya ? (~ Understood ?)" with a tap on the head each time.

There were exclamations when the system wished them "good afternoon" etc by name. The best one was when someone called out and asked me , hesitantly (at least 3 times), whether they should hit "Enter", and we asked them to try it and see. Nothing would burst into flames, nothing would stall, and chances are the computer would detect a mistake , if one existed. What happened in the end was that people played more than their share of practicals, it was fun to see stuffy officer types smiling and grinning like children.

I don't know how much of a use this was in their eventual education and expertise. But today, more than 27 years later their offices are all computerised and young folks are competently performing various office activities .

The Internet happened n the middle of all this. I remember accessing the Internet in Unix using something called Lynx. There wasn't much of a Graphical User Interface (GUI) anywhere, "Windows" was just on the horizon , and a mouse was then what ran surreptitiously below the floor trying to chew up the network wiring. I went through a phase of looking disdainfully down on "Windows" as we continued to use Unix.

Those were not the days of Dreamweavers and stuff. I remember creating my thyroid website coding the html from first principles, with what I called the donkey method, bothering every geek within a radius of 10 feet and more in the office.

Too many things happening now. Between slimline flat monitors, everything and its friend that is connectible via USB, so many operating system versions and flavors, numerous browsers, their versions on cellphones, webcams, skype, and alarming nomenclatures like bluetooth,apple, ipads, notebooks, GPRS, malware, adware,packet collisions, pinging, spamming, buzzing, twittering and so on, it has all started resembling the chaos on the streets of Mumbai.

But unlike those for whom cars always came with AC, and power everything, automatic opening, closing, not to mention, locking, I still look upon in nostalgia at the times, when you breezed through on the Western Express Highway , windows down, on your way to south Mumbai and didn't get into a mental agony over lack of parking, cheating mechanics, motorcycles weaving in and out in lanes, avoiding collisions by sheer luck, someone banging your car etc etc.

And so my immigration to these Digital times, was much like my ancestors to Mumbai. Slow, filled with leaps and falls, trials and fun, a sudden feeling of being advanced, and then a feeling of being terribly grounded.

There are guys mentioned in the earlier aforementioned post, who describe Digital Immigrants as those "who were born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later in their life. {and then a cartoon shows a mother explaining to her son that he was 'born' and not 'downloaded!' }...

Well, I was there at the very beginning of digital technology. I was born before it was. It improved and enhanced its qualities in a continuous fashion, and allowed me to grow with it.

Only trouble is, I age, and it doesn't. And unlike me , it gets presumably smarter as it ages.

But I do not know whether it realizes where it is going. And whether it remembers where it came from.

I know where I came from.

And I certainly know where I am going....

(To publish this on my blog :-))) HA ! Ha! )

No, seriously, we need to start a "Daughter of the Digital Technology" Campaign. All Sons, whether of the Soil , Technology, or of Digitally Native / Immigrant mothers, most welcome......