Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Legislative benefits in the time of Ipads.

Highlighted on Sept 1, 2011 by Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?

Our esteemed MP's in Parliament will soon be flaunting free Ipads and Samsung Galaxy tabs.The whole exercise is to enable them to see less of papers and more of screens, pertaining to their work in Parliament .

While I hope that we end up saving millions of trees this way, I can think of several uses of these Ipads.

My heart bleeds for the health problems of so many MP's and MLA's. Which is not to say that I have cardiac problems; but those highlighted in the News, often have to take recourse to chest pains, dizziness, breathlessness, and so on, and the poor fellows have to rush to some ICU in some fancy hospital.

Lately, the variety of ailments has increased, and one hears about certain scam accused folks in jail, claiming attacks of dementia , and then spending inordinate time getting all kinds of checkups and MRI's and scans done. One of the heavily tainted chief ministers of a southern state even had more intriguing symptoms, the morning his bail application was to be heard. He got up in the morning and forgot who he was, and where he was. So he says.

This simply is, what might be called a Transient Random Ischaemic Creative Kick (TRICK) in the Brain...... (Don't Google. I just made this name up :-)....).

And so I think, that the aforementioned Ipads can be put to good use.

Along with the Ipads, I propose that the MPs and Legislators of individual states, be asked to have a whole body profile done , in the form of pathological tests, targeted according to age, and suitable for their life stage. That is, a young MP/MLA in the 30's may have different tests and followups done, than say, someone who in 56 or 79. Suitable corrective action will be taken by the government to normalise abnormal values. All in the interests of their health.

Each MP/MLA would then be asked to carry that information on his IPad, as a mandatory thing. While we ordinary mortals cringe under the costs of medical care and tests, the nation will offer free tests every year to the folks in Legislatures and Parliament. And the information on the IPad will be suitable updated as required. The National Informatics Centre can be asked to have this information password protected, to avoid creative updates and accidental deletions.

And as is clear, this will go a long way towards ensuring a healthy legislature, where sudden trips to the ICCU etc, will be a thing of the past. Hopefully.

However , it is quite possible that certain unrooted maladies as I call them, (which cannot be blamed on medical and pathological history), may simply, at some point, manifest themselves, at the convenience of the MP/Legislator:

- Currency Syndrome : Similar to Stendahl syndrome, (where people surrounded by huge amount of artwork suddenly develop a rapid heartbeat, confusion, dizziness, and hallucinations). This might simply happen, if someone has, in view of several disappointing zeros of performance levels in the family, visions of sudden prosperity, thanks to their position of power.

-Not Mine Syndrome : Similar to the Dr Strangelove or Alien hand syndrome. This is a neurological affliction where one hand behaves independently, and defiantly, regardless of the rest of the body. Like one hand may be righteously saying "no-no" to an attractive deal, and the other hand, on its own, either slips under the table or jingles loudly in the pockets.

-Judgement Day Epilepsy : Similar to something called Mary Hart Epilepsy, where in 1991, a lady called Neale experienced epileptic seizures everytime she heard the voice of a TV host Mary Hart, and had an extremely upset stomach, pressure in the head, and total confusion, making folks brand her as crazy. Situations where a judge might make you feel like that cannot be denied, and simply may be exploited .

Indigestible Truth Syndrome. : This is a flatulence related malady. "Gas related," to those terminologically-disabled. Throughout an actively imbibing political life, many things may be consumed, swallowed and eaten, way out of balance. That results in considerable indigestible stuff inside the bodies, which then suffer from , what we ordinary types, call, "Gas". There are various types of pains that may occur. Pains on the left side of the colon might mimic heart problems, while those on the right side might mimic gallstones or appendicitis. This is something widely used , sometimes to rush into cardiac care units. When all you need is some de-gassing, by medicine or minor procedure.
Just saying.

Aiyyo, Samjha Nahi Syndrome : This is also called the Foreign Accent Syndrome. You don't need to travel anywhere , but this is a known mental malady, where people emerge from brain injuries and comas suddenly speaking differently. Between 1941 and 2009 , 61 such cases have been recorded. Croation people have got up from comas suddenly speaking German. It is possible that in a multi linguistic society such as ours, it may be possible for folks to emerge from bad situations, and even a good night's sleep, suddenly unable to understand a language in which they are being interrogated.

As you can see, between the latest medical history on the Ipads, and a complete briefing of sudden medical conditions indicated above, we may be able to deal fairly effectively, with those that exhibit symptoms at will and claim to be sick.

Building up a database of sick possibilities unrelated to medical histories, but totally related to extracurricular activities , is also a side benefit here.

The nation stands to benefit hugely.

Bring on the Ipads.

Just a cautionary note. When the next round of goodies for MPs and MLAs are announced, make sure the new operating systems can recognize this data.

I mean Apples and Windows are involved. Something called Android (I mistook that for Aandar Aao, stupid me ) it seems is also there.

Whatever comes next, the doctors must know the patients history details , na ?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene and I

I am sitting here , dry at home, at the desktop, the curtain billowing into my face, and sky is getting more and more ominous. This weekend in Mumbai, has been of nonstop lashings of rain, combined with winds.

Naturally, despite low pressures and depressions or whatever, that build over the Arabian Sea, there was no agency telling us to expect this onslaught over the weekend, and still continuing. Without fail, every time, someone appears in the papers, after the stuff has begun, to say how this is due to some low pressure bands, or winds or whatever. Which doesnt help anyone planning to travel and so on. I know at least one family which was travelling to Goa this weekend, and must be in the thick of this right now.

And those of us in Mumbai, simply continue to go to work, get totally wet standing at bus-stops trying to ensure the umbrellas do not suddenly turn turtle. Some cars, with fellows sitting inside agonizing about the stock market in the newspaper, careen by, splashing the potholed water on school uniforms, sarees, and wash-and-wear trousers.

And you stand in a bus, and don't say a word, as your neighbor transfers his umbrella to the other hand, thereby dripping water on you; he needs to access his wallet in his pocket, buy a ticket, and it will be his turn next to enjoy a dripping umbrella , when you buy yours.

Our trains continue to trundle , overloaded with those that make Mumbai what it is , till it looks like a river flows ahead in its path. Then they stop. Between stations. Ever resourceful, the folks inside jump out, helping women out of their compartment, and start trudging along the tracks, umbrellas open, hands chained to the next person, so as to not be surprised by sudden gaps in the ground beneath the swirling waters on the rails..

Mumbai's buses, those hardy bulwarks , sneeze their exhaust, and chug around, chock a block with passengers, giving a new meaning to the word "space"; there is always room for a few more... Once in a while, it all becomes too much while traversing a misjudged pothole , and the bus stops, at an angle, unable to continue. Traffic swirls around it, passengers rush to other buses, stand out in the rain, and life continues.

Papers are now full of how "repaired and filled potholes", are once again remaining true to their original name; how pedestrians walkways are flooded, how we must be careful of flooded areas, because of the city's trash floating in it, and like every year, hospitals give statistics on the latest likely epidemics, based on the patients they are seeing.

And then I read all about "Irene", the hurricane calamity befalling the eastern seaboard of the US. Days before it is supposed to appear, it is all over the papers and on TV, the citizenry residing in the likely towns in its path, rushes out to hoard water, provisions, batteries, groceries, and whatever else. Television weather folks continuously track the advent of Irene, every twist, turn, and deviation in the path; not to mention sudden losses of strength. Timelines, indicate when to expect Irene where, as if she is Barack Obama on an official trip.

People are ordered to evacuate, kept away from beaches, signs on highways and freeways in Irene's path, flash messages about the approaching hurricane, urging folks to reach somewhere safe.

I just heard about New York's Grand Central Station being emptied, as trains are cancelled and stopped. Flights are cancelled .

And there are minute to minute updates , the most amazing one I read , that says, Irene is supposed to arrive someplace in 20 minutes. I mean, for someone who is actually subject to what is called Indian Stretchable Time (instead of the official Indian Standard Time), scheduling Irene right down to the minute is a bit too much. Such a prediction here in Mumbai would be impossible and infeasible. The most they would have said here , is that the landfall would happen tomorrow. And even then nobody would have believed them .

I can actually picture some mother in Queens, Long Island, rushing home from somewhere with her kids, turning into her garage with the click of the wireless garage door opener, clicking it shut, and then hearing the whoosh and bang of the rain outside, as Irene arrives, on schedule.

There are folks on Facebook giving brief entries about the Irene happenings in their areas.

In amazing Mumbai style, there is a picture of water cascading down the steps leading down to some New York area subway station. Then there are photos of people in boats on what were formerly roads in New York. There has been a huge amount of hype about the coming of Hurricane Irene, and everyone is mobilized, with offices shut, schools closed, semester openings postponed, people getting updates on Twitter, and President Obama sitting in at the Hurricane Headquarters . ( I actually saw a photo on the Net, and even wondered how he would get back to the White House, in case the hurricane struck while he was there. But I guess he follows and believes the weather folks there; I guess , he will reach back before Irene reaches the capital).

Someone in the weather bureau announces, that Irene is now being downgraded to a tropical storm , because it is, presumably behaving less angry.

I am just amazed Irene listens and behaves exactly as they are saying.

I don't know why they name hurricanes as they do in the US. First Katrina. Now Irene.

If this was India, I guess Kareena would be jealous.

If they do name storms and stuff in India, only the weather folks here know about it. I don't think they get time to prepare a name. Its like a baby arriving way before it is scheduled. Or maybe they prepare a name and it's a false alarm.

But if they did, it would possibly named after a politician. Seemingly powerful, with a one track ambition of running roughshod over everything, to advance in its own path; misleading folks; causing a lot of damage to everyday ordinary folks, who actually voted for him.

Somewhere, Irene has finished her walk on the eastern carpet.

We carry on. Depressions, storms, cyclones, hurricanes and what have you. Nothing stops us.

And so , this morning, on a Sunday, a young girl, cycling in the rain and howling wind, to teach swimming to kids at dawn, at a neighboring facility, returns home, drenched in pouring rain, dripping , and doesn't think it's anything special.

She changes into dry clothes, zooms in on a hot breakfast, clutches her comfortably hot coffee cup, and says, "You know that blogger friend of yours who runs marathons ? I saw him running in the rain this morning as I was cycling by......."

( I am sure my blogger friend doesn't think he is doing anything special too.)

As Irene takes a deep breath and quietens down, somewhere else, nothing has changed.

The world goes on.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The arrogance of abundance..

The area where I live, has to be the most wooded area in Mumbai, (if you leave out the Sanjay Gandhi National Park to the north part of the city, which is a reserved area). No one owns houses here, because they belong to those we work for, and are rented out to us for the duration of our working life. To the delight of many folks who visit us, there is a noticeable drop in temperature, as you turn into the gate at the entrance, a straight road with majestic trees on both sides, sometimes bursting forth in orange blooms in the summer.

My late parents would visit us, and my father would often sit in an armchair, with the newspaper and his cup of milk, in the balcony, looking over a thick canopy of trees as far as you could see, shake his head and say ," I hope you guys realize what a wonderful thing you enjoy; and value this ....".

Maybe he knew how things would be.

This is the road that leads to our building. The photograph has been taken at the height of summer, when the foliage isn't so dense , but still affords immense shade to those walking to work.

The monsoon, makes these trees lush green . Some of these trees go back to the days that predate our Institute, and are more than a hundred years old. Some of these are taller than our building which is 6 floors high.

The last few years has seen the advent of cutting crews, presumably to organize tree cutting, that starts with offending branches. Chain saws appear. Trucks appear. And by and by, one sees a vehicle loaded with logs making its way out, officially.

Two days ago, the branch shown (encircled ) and its neighbors, were pulled down with an almighty noise. Mind you , the tree borders a huge school ground (huge by Mumbai standards) , and is at the periphery, not bending on to this road.

As the rain started in earnest by the evening, I saw two guys, with phones, umbrellas and worried looks, standing on the pavement eyeing the fallen wood, and telling someone on the phone, that something was yet to reach there, and they would wait till it came. (Don't ask how I heard. I was out for the regular walk with a friend, saw all this destruction, then noticed these guys, and deliberately slowed my speed. I have seen this happen once too often. )

The next morning, huge tree stumps, cut , were deposited in our building compound. For something cut, that was 6 stories tall, it was clear that other large quantities of wood were cut up and transported away by the aforementioned chaps in the aforementioned trucks. This isn't the first time such events have happened.

Cut to an event a month ago. There is some
construction happening at the end of the road in the first photo.

Plumbing requirements necessitated the digging up of an area across the road . Once the job was done, there was haphazard filling up of gaps, and a few deep oblong holes, right in the middle of the sidewalk. I was returning from a daily walk in the evening, when I noticed two youths, with some cautionary flags in their hands, just leaving them there on the ground and vamoosing away on a two wheeler.

When I walked into the construction site to insist on some safeguards being put around the hole, and the flags used properly along with some decent barrier ropes and stuff, everyone shook their heads, looked at me like I was trespassing and wasting their time and said someone else was looking after this. So.

This road is frequented by school children , lots of old grandparent types out for walks, as well as folks rushing to the gates to catch public transport. Monsoon evenings being dull and dark, there was a good chance someone would have fallen into this thing.

There was no supervision by staff, no performance of responsible work, attention to safety , signs saying "Danger" or anything. Because no one was getting anything out of this. No deals, no nothing. A major pipe had to be connected to the construction site plumbing, that was done, and the rest was immaterial.

Experience indicated that something would happen if a complaint was made to a totally different entity like Security. Which I did, describing terrible scenarios about little children and old people, and two wheelers falling into the thing. Twenty four hours later when I went the same way, the thing was surrounded by some stakes on which some "danger" ribbon was wound; I just hoped some kid on a tricycle didn't manage to pass by there.

And it now occurred to me that we are simply blinded by the concept of abundance.

Abundance of power, abundance of money, abundance of lies. Abundance of resources.

There is a sense of ownership, and complete ignorance of the fact that we are trustees of these resources and not blind consumers.

And so there is an arrogance of abundance. Which is why we wallow in corruption. Which is why something is happening today in new Delhi, which has never happened earlier.

There has been an abundance of money and power, and the emulation of powerful types, at lower levels is complete.

It doesn't matter if the ordinary folks fall into a troubled ditch, so long as those that manage things, get their dues. Wood is precious in a city starved of trees. Powerless people , who stupidly follow rules are disposable.

And this has led to an arrogance. That manifests itself, in the smirk I get when I ask about putting some protection around the ditch, in the casualness with which tree stumps are thrown in our compound, all the useful stuff having been carted away for revenue earning, and also in the way, some folks in New Delhi, , possibly steeped in the syrup of corruption themselves, drag some other people into it, simply because they talk about it.

The arrogance of abundance. We never learn. Those that try , are shouted down.

Sometimes there are things around us trying to say something .

And sometimes it is ancient Greek philosophers , who had a habit of getting things right.

Which is probably why, centuries and millennia later, what they said, still appears to hold.

Like this guy , Epicurus (Greek philosopher, BC 341-270) who said , "Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little."

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dangers from the sea ?

For someone who has lived for more than a quarter of a century in Mumbai, I have had very little to do with boats and ships, and a lot to do with water. A childhood in the plains of the Deccan plateau meant lots of surface transport, and by the time one got done with academics , travel was all about flying.

My earliest memories of ships, must be from almost 53 years ago. There are vignettes of crowded ship decks as night set in, and sitting with one's luggage amidst the crowds, hearing older people talk about how the ship rolled, and how so and so spent the entire time throwing up, wailing kids, and so on. Sunrise saw us anchoring out at sea, and disembarking on to some kind of rowing boats which had a raft-like look, and these boats took us inward to some jetty, from where we took a bullock cart to our ancestral place in the Kokan coastal region.

By and by , in college, one got to hear about ships sailing from Mumbai to Goa, and one actually saw these shipped berthed at the quay in Panjim. For some reason, ship transport on the west coast appeared to fizzle out, and from then on ships were all about admiring them at a distance from the Gateway of India, wondering about their origin, as we took a launch to the Elephanta Island on a day trip, and so on.

India has had a great Naval history, right from the time of Shivaji. The Navy has played a stellar role in the various wars fought by India in my lifetime. And even in the preindependence times, when the East India Company ships ruled the seas off and on the Indian coast. Mumbai has an excellent harbor , and a long history of maritime transport .

So one is baffled by the sudden episodes of assorted foreign ships, malfunctioning in Indian waters, drifting all over the seas, managing to bypass all ports on the eastern seaboard , rounding the southern tip, and managing to wash ashore, specifically in Mumbai, that too on one of the most crowded beaches. Juhu.

These are not Indian ships by registration. Owners could be anybody. But what is clear is that these are commercial tankers and ships transporting goods and not passengers.

According to Coast Guard statistics, more than 60,000 tonnes of crude oil has been spilt into the Arabian Sea in the last 29 years. There have been 23 ship accidents in the Arabian Sea since 1982, contributing majorly to the total spills along the entire West coast. In the same period, almost 1,13,000 tonnes of oil has been spilled along India's entire coastline due to 74 ship accidents.

Since January 2011, 4 ships have managed to malfunction,collide ,stray,sink,or leak oil off the Mumbai coast.

On Januray 30, 2011, a Cyprus merchant ship, MV Nordlake, collided with a Navy ship INS Vindhagiri at the entrance to Mumbai Harbor.

On June 11, 2011, Singapore ship MV Wisdom, lost her tow, and suddenly managed to drift aimlessly and landed up at Juhu Beach, close enough for people to wade in and touch.

Then MV Pavit, a ship abandoned off the Oman Coast on June 29, 2011, managed to float here and there, and surprise, surprise, managed to land up, yes, again at Juhu Beach on July 31, 2011.

As if this was not enough , on August 4, 2011, MV Rak, carrying 60,000 tonnes of coal and at least 300 tonnes of fuel oil, sank in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai, and 2 tonnes of oil is supposed to be leaking every hour into the sea since August 6, 2011. There are oil slicks across the beaches in Mumbai, and the leakage has adversely affected the marine life, the monsoon being the spawning and breeding season. Sea food consumers now prefer to buy stuff sourced from places , way up north of Mumbai.

As if this was not bad enough, on August 18, 2011, panic set in as the authorities detected a stray unmanned boat drifting off the Bhabha Atomic Reserach Centre, on the city's eastern seaboard. The Security forces and police took immediate action, investigated, and found it belonged to a fisherman who had anchored it at a jetty , and somehow it got de-anchored and floated by.

This bothers me. And I have some questions.

How come, ships are automatically floating on to Juhu Beach, one of the most crowded beaches in Mumbai. Close to all the highly successful commercial, and tourist areas ? How come one never hears, of ships drifting away, say to the harbor in Goa, some distance south of Mumbai ? Or one of the several jetties and older historical harbors and ports on the Kokan Coastline ?

How come one isn't hearing about ships getting grounded ashore on India's eastern coast, say at Vishakhapatnam, Chennai, or even around Cochin, and Mangalore, southwards on the Western coast ?

Is it significant, that ships drifting ashore right at the beach, might make it easy for someone , who resembles an Indian , to quietly be a part of the excited inquisitive masses, and step ashore, to a preferred destination like Mumbai ? No one really knows what is being carried on these ships, and in the brouhaha over the sinking, and folks getting away in small boats, is it possible that some things find an easy entry along with stuff into Mumbai ? In all these years of oil tankers sailing all across the Arabian Sea off Mumbai, how many oil spills have you seen ? Very few. Is this something to divert the attention and change the priorities of the authorities ? How old is Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and how is it that unmanned boats can suddenly drift in very close to it, although anchored earlier at well used jetties further away ?

Is there something like Naval Radar ? Where suspicious boats and ships can be detected, and the Navy forces and Coast Guard can rush in, similar to jet fighters mobilizing to ward of intruders in our airspace ? If it exists, why isn't it working ? If it doesn't, what stops the authorities from installing something that does ? Do we have sufficient resources ? What do other countries do ?

There are some explanations being put forth about non availability of trained seafarer types, as the rise to the level of Captain of a ship is over a period of time that does not allow sufficient experience. Human error of those commanding the ships , is being blamed.

Why does this (perceived lack of security resources ) remind me of the once proud and acclaimed Mumbai Police, reduced to a force that doesn't even have decent bullet proof jackets , simply because every purchase is looked at by someone unscrupulous , as a profitable opportunity ?

Is it significant that countries who have earlier initiated terror attacks on us, via the sea off Mumbai , are situated with coastal cities on the Arabian sea ? Is this approach via the sea the preferred method now ?

And just when I thought I was being unduly imaginative about coastal and maritime things, comes the news of this years biggest infiltration bid in North Kashmir by the Lashkar-e-Toiba, the same fellows responsible for 26/11.

On August 20, 2011, yesterday , militants tried to infiltrate across the line of control (between India and Pakistan) that is formed by the KishenGanga river in North Kashmir, by sailing in , and were engaged in combat by the Indian army. Several militants were killed, and a hunt is on for the others.

In the meanwhile, our Ministers continue to hobnob at talks with ministers from Pakistan, and the press goes ballistic over the glamour aspect of the new external affairs minister from Pakistan. Terrorist Ajmal Kasab remains in jail, at a huge cost to our government , despite being filmed killing people on 26/11. Pakistan refuses to move ahead on "prosecuting" what it calls non-state actors who participated in 26/11, despite proofs.

And we recently had one more terror attack in Mumbai. About which there seems to be no news , about those responsible, arrests, for that , anything .

Mid-day reports that there is another vessel reported to be drifting towards Mumbai .

Is someone doing something ? Can we hear about it ?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A learning Sunday

There is a saying in Marathi , my mother tongue, that actually defines terribly "savvy" folks , as those who can do a sort of "auto-completion of words" in life; if you say "ta-" they know you mean " taakbhat". As a corollary, I wonder if such folks develop the amazing ability to glean "meanings" from certain actions and words , that stupid folks like me take literally.

This comes to mind, as the newspapers are full of stuff on "corruption" stories, what with the stuff happening in the capital, shouting in Parliament, and the media going into fifth gear, in a frenzy of repetitive reporting.

I have always wondered, as an academic exercise, how a person says or indicates, that he needs a bribe. (watch this ad for Tata Tea Premium)

One hears stories of X, taking Y from some office, for a cup of tea somewhere, and offering or agreeing to a bribe; and I have always wondered how X and Y understand that this is not an honest "expression of interest in each other " but an invitation for a surreptitious transaction, where you now have an anonymous table to transact under.

There is a complicated cross roads system close to where I live. There is a badly planned traffic signal, where you sing the Lord's praises every time you make it successfully across in a vehicle. There is a police "presence", but not at the crossroads. Further down the road, one sees them exchanging papers and checking things with folks on two wheelers and truck drivers who are waved away to their side. Those crossing red signals , in the meanwhile, get away. I once asked a cop there why he didn't catch all these folks who run through a red light. This was on the arterial road outside which is always crowded. He told me that if he caught everyone who skipped a red, there would be a traffic jam till a kilometre away, and there would be a mess . So they stand beyond the signal and catch folks.

The other thing I noticed is no one is traumatised by being caught. I've been told that when the licence is asked for, the smarter types, add some stuff in the plastic licence holder jacket. In fact the licence is always kept ready like this . There is something happening like filling of forms , next to the cop's motorcycle, the licence is returned , perhaps minus the extra something, and everyone is happy.

Vehicle owners , particularly those on motorbikes, think they own the road, even overtaking the buses on the side where people are getting in and getting out of the bus. Several of my friends have been injured by this rash driving, and I once saw a motorcycle driver being stopped by a cop for that.

I was walking next to them, had seen what had happened, and so I asked the cop, why he doesn't let the air out of the guy's vehicle, to teach him a lesson. (in my childhood , the police used this to punish errant cyclists). The motorcycle guy, removed his helmet, gave me a look and said he paid his taxes; I told him I paid mine too; an argument ensued, which the cop stopped (because he had other people to catch), and I moved away, quite sure that papers would have exchanged hands.

A few days ago, on a Sunday , we were returning from the western suburbs, and were debating which road would have less traffic. We thought we would take a right turn at a major junction, and noticed , that when the light turned green, there was only a straight arrow pointing ahead. Since we interpret only what we see and not hidden meanings, we continued straight, while tons of folks were merrily taking a right turn.

What looked like a rookie cop, waved us to one side.

Two senior citizen types, who have been driving for the last 43 years, without getting a"ticket", paying taxes on time, never breaking rules , never treating driving like a sport even in their younger days, naturally got upset, when the cop knocked on the glass .

We asked him what the problem was. He asked us if we didn't see that we were in a "right turn lane". We said the signal indicated a straight path and no right turn, so we followed the signal. Then he said we should have "presumed" that we were in a turning lane ! Asked for the licence, and we innocently gave it , naturally without any accompanying stuff. He then asks us to come out and accompany him to where the motorcycle was parked. There were several other cops , some with walkie-talkies, spread around there.

What he didn't know was that he had just met an honest senior citizen, and that hell hath no fury than an honest citizen fooled, cheated and scorned. An argument ensued. We asked him to accompany us to the signal to show him how it didn't show a right arrow at any time. (he probably thought this was a new way of going someplace to get a bribe).

I asked him to return the licence as we had not committed a crime. He refused. Voices rose. I tried to collect my licence from his hand. He held on. I too didn't let go. (I knew he wouldn't dare use his other hand. To push. I read and learn). In the meanwhile , the person with me lost his temper and started shouting at them in disgust. Loud and clear.

We asked what this business of "presuming" signals was. Was it OK if I presumed a red signal was green , and if I presumed that I could double park everywhere ?

The sight of a white haired senior citizen shouting at the cops, and a oldish lady gesturing and glaring at the cop, drew the attention of one of the senior cops walking around with a walkie talkie. He came around to check. Heard us out.

And he asked the younger cop to hand back the driver's licence to us.

And said, "Now , go " !

A fellow from another car passing by , leaned out of the window, shaking his head, to tell us we should have paid up !

We left, this having spoiled a day that had been fairly good so far. We were still angry and fuming when we reached home.

And I wonder , if some infrastructure stuff is deliberately messed up, so people like us can be caught and fined. We have signals which don't work and nothing is done. We install CCTV's all over the place , every time there is some kind of violent attack, and do not check if they are working. You go to Malls, and people in fancy uniforms do cursory checks of your purse, apologetically. They make you walk through fancy doorways and no one pays attention to beeps, or maybe it beeps wrongly. I have even asked a lady security officer if that was all she was going to check, and what about pockets and stuff. At which she just smiled. I didn't.

Just like our roads, where the contractors are hand in glove with municipal folks, all merrily making money, and who cares if people fall off two wheelers going into potholes and get run over (as happened recently on the arterial road outside). Sadly, that was a cop travelling to work, and going to leave his wife at her workplace on the way. She died.

Just read this post by Neha, about the bribe-taking merrily happening here while the big anti corruption Hazare event takes place in New Delhi.

I just hope we learn to take this seriously, and not restrict it to slogans, catchy writeups on tees, candle light marches, and singing songs , and standing in chains holding hands.

Anna Hazare and his group are doing something and highlighting stuff where no one else was doing anything. There is some discussion happening on whether his methods are right or wrong. But what must be understood is that he is the first one to vocalize and formally define it as a national curse and problem. When most of us take the easy way out. His method may be right or wrong. Once started, and followed up, the correct way of handling will automatically become clear, through dialogue and interaction. There is a lot to learn by observing the approaches, the words, the responses, of both sides in this, and the response of the common man.

It is also eminently clear, that unless each of us, avoids the quick and fast solution related to money, where solving a problem is concerned, this will remain, what can only be described as a 'scam'my life.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"S." in the time of Globalization !

I've just heard from " S." :-) ; she is just back from her maiden trip to a modern supermarket.

"S." as many readers of this blog know, is my daily household help for the last 25 years and running. Lives in a joint family with 3 sons, 1 daughter , 3 daughters-in-law, 3 grandkids, all this in 1.5 rooms. I've seen her through many stages, like, as a new arrival, back at her parents after a bad marriage with a drunk, good-for-nothing husband, her struggle to send her kids to school, acquiring loans for buying a tenement, dealing with officialdom, and avaricious donation takers at educational and other institutions, her efforts at ensuring good medical care for her daughters-in-law (when in doubt) , and most important, her urge to always ask questions and learn more, and educate herself in the School of Life.

In the area where I live, ladies often form some kind of groups of 12 , and work at some kind of whole sale grocery shopping , by being members of a consumer federation thing, that looks at demand, sources the foodstuff at the source, and passes on the benefit to the consumer in lieu of the middle man. Members of these groups take turns to total the requirement of stuff by looking at everyone's orders , receive the stuff and preside over its distribution. Many ladies in whose houses "S." worked, participated in this. However, S couldn't participate , because she wouldn't have known how to write or read the stuff. She had never been to school.

Then she heard of the Agricultural Produce Wholesale market managed by the government , an hour away from our area. Someone said the prices of grains were much cheaper, and so she tried to get a bunch of ladies from her neighborhood together, and went there. They would buy sacks of stuff at very competitive prices, and share it. Hiring a vehicle to go there would negate the price advantage, and so she and her group would go by bus, and while returning, stand about with the huge sacks on their heads, running here and there to catch buses in the crowd. By and by, the rest of the ladies fizzled out , and the scheme didn't remain economical for her after that.

Then someone told her about Big Bazaar ( like an indigenous better version of , say, Target/Walmart). They keep having advertisements in the papers, special combo deals, and so on.

She and her eldest daughter in law and one grand kid went yesterday , to one that has opened quite close to where we stay. This is a three day festival weekend in India, the daughters-in-law would have visitors from parental homes, as well as some would travel, and it was a good idea to check this place, she thought.

They walked , a kilometre down the hill, to the place. Someone had told them that a purchase above a certain amount, entitled them to a free home delivery. So her daughter-in-law brought the big cart, the grandson sat in it , legs dangling, pointing out to all kinds of stuff he had seen on television, as "S" walked alongside, her head covered with her saree palloo, something she always does , when she feels she is in a strange place.

She will probably flunk any given arithmetic written test, but she can always calculate a good deal when she sees one. She purchased a months supply of all kinds of essential staple groceries , for a very good price. She thought the difference was not too much compared to the whole sale place, now that the transport costs had hit the roof due to gas prices. The daughter-in-law also purchased stuff like biscuits, some school wear stuff, and some storage items which were advertised for an amazing price.

" Do you know, the AC was just too much. My back, and legs really started going numb. But there wasn't any place without the AC, so I was kind of happy to reach the billing place..." . She told me this 10 minutes ago, while sharing a nice cup of tea with me.

The bill did exceed some given amount so "S" asked for the home delivery service.

"Fill this form, Ma'am. You will get the delivery in the next 2-3 days" The check out guy says .

"What nonsense is this ? I buy because I want it today. I buy in this quantity because you advertise free home delivery. And now you cheat ? " an angry empowered "S.".

" Sorry Ma'am. That's the rule . " a complacent counter guy.

"Take me to your Sahib " . S. rising to her full 5 ft 1" height.

The counter guy is taken aback. This is getting serious . He never thought "S" would demand to see his boss (Sahib) and crib about this. There was some glitch in the communication within their organization, and home delivery was not going to happen yet .

"How do you think I am going to carry all this stuff home ? Say, even from here to the rickshaw outside ? And who do you think will look after the material and the little boy simultaneously on a busy road, as my daughter-in-law runs hither and thither to stop and get a rickshaw to agree to take us this short distance ? Take me to your Sahib ad I will ask. an angry "S", with a "thought-as-much-all-these-posh-shops-are-all-the-same" look.

"Else" . The counter guy looks up in anticipation.

"Come outside with us with the cart . Stop a rickshaw and help us load it up. Otherwise I talk to your sahib. " .

And so the fellow, escorted them out, spent some time getting them a rickshaw . (None come in a queue, you have to sort of dart here and there on the road, with eyes at the back of your head too, to get a rickshaw here. ). Helped the ladies in, loaded their stuff in, and passed the young child in to sit on top of the stuff, supported by his Mom.

S returned , mightily pleased with the shopping expedition . You needed to keep track of the various deals, she told me. Then this place was worth it. The next time she would go was a couple of months away. And she was sure to try and meet the Sahib then and question him about the assurance of free home delivery , before she would buy stuff.

She shook her head.

" These children ! My little grandson can name every chocolate and biscuit brand , because he sees it in TV. Even that egg shaped thing with a little game and chocolate piece inside ."

She shook her head further. Bent a bit towards me. Not that anyone else was listening. But she had something shocking to tell.

" Three egg-shaped chocolates for 90 rupees. So outrageous. But our first time here. And the kids have been wanting it ever since they saw it in television. So their mother decided to buy it. Just this once. ....."

Welcome to a globalized "S" !

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Things we always knew......

There was a time when we were so smitten by "research" publishing per se, particularly in the medical field, that we regarded it, as words from some clever oracle. With the Internet came instant announcements of findings, mailing lists, and so on, and people like me signed up.

I have now come to the conclusion that all these guys are announcing stuff that we actually knew and practiced ages ago.

Take Gold . That, used in trace amount scientifically, it has curative properties was well known in the Indian Medicine Systems. The paper today suddenly highlights its use vis-a-vis cancer, as discovered by folks at Griffith University and University of Western Australia.

Then there is this amazing announcement that says, that walking around the hospital reduces hospital stays for the elderly, ( Archives of Internal Medicine. Drs Shadmi and Zisberg of the University of Haifa, Israel)

I've known about the first for years, and my late father was an avid practitioner of the second.

When my son was born, all the native traditions kind of kicked in , where his well being was concerned. Daily pre-bath massages with special oil, with attention to the fontanel area, massaged just so. A post bath nap in a room earlier subject to cleansing fumes from some vegetable seeds thrown on burning embers, warm water with honey, fed silver spoon by silver spoon.

But what was interesting was the water. Tradition and old native medicinal systems recommended that water with traces of certain plants and gold was beneficial. And so the water , that was boiled and cooled for drinking, enjoyed boiling with a small pliable ring of gold along with some colic reducing seeds , all this for say 15-20 minutes. It was important that the gold was pure, and the pliability ensured that. Making gold ornaments involved adding other metals to toughen and firm up the final product, and that reduced purity. And various social traditions ensured, that you always had a gram of pure gold stores away somewhere in a box in your cupboard. Of course age, increased activity, and a working mother ensured that by and by gold faded away from the scene, but the memories remain.

This business about walking to reduce hospital stays , actually happened by instinct.

Well into his eighties, my father had one parameter that decided how healthy he was. He had these daily walks, which were also incorporated into social visits when he had to take a rickshaw to go somewhere; he stopped the rickshaw, say, a kilometre away and walked from there. You can say walking was an obsession. It gave him a feeling of strength.

By and by , age started catching up, and he was scheduled for some Prostatic(BPH) surgery. He was asked to check in the previous evening, now that his pain and discomfort had subsided .

We went in the next morning, early enough, to find his bed empty, his stuff lying around, and he soon returned shaking his head disapprovingly. He had gone for a stroll around the entire wing, managed to see some newspapers which he brought back with him. Since this was a major surgery, we were worried about how he was doing, and he confounded all of us by commenting on how disgusted he was now with some political party he had supported earlier , because he read in the newspapers, that they had issued extra licences for beer bars in the city . He was still shaking his head in anger when the nurse landed up for the pre-op stuff.

24 hours after the surgery , he had 4-5 different tubes coming out of /going into his body, and was getting restless. A day later , only a urine catheter remained attached, and he was encouraged to sit up, stand , and had proper meals and stuff. I spent most of my days and nights at the hospital, because he was hard of hearing, people didn't realize that, and he used that to his advantage to do pretty much what he wished. I would interact with the doctors and nurses and other staff and listen to their instructions. The doctor visited twice a day and was quite happy with the progress.

The third day dawned, and I could see him getting restless. He declared he was just fine, and wanted to move around. Not just in the room, but outside too. I could see that he was doing OK, but the catheter bag would be a problem. He couldn't have cared less.

The bag was then attached to something on the side of the bed. He stood up, we removed the urine bag from the bed attachment, and I put it in a beautiful embroidered shoulder bag that I was using for some of my stuff. He put his hand on my shoulder for some support (just in case, you know :-)...), and the two of us set out into the corridor, a six foot father in hospital clothes, with a tube emanating from the side, leading to a beautiful bag on his daughter's shoulder.

We walked down the corridor, took a turn past the general wards, where my father smiled and waved at the people, and the people gave me confused looks. We soon reached a staircase. I insisted he take it one step at a time. Something made him listen, and a bit slowly, but confidently, he held my shoulder and elbow and managed that.

We were finally out on the ground floor, having descended two floors. We wandered by the entrance, the statues in the garden honoring the founder of the place, and the lobby people simply stared at us in awe when we sauntered in. I thought we had done enough, and cajoled my father into taking the elevator back up. He agreed. We slowly trudged back to his room, beautiful bag, urine bag and all, the tube linking us both.

We ran into his doctor who had come by only to see the patient had disappeared.

People in their eighties can get away with lots of things. The doctor checked him, declared he was doing fine, actually applauded the walk, patted him on the shoulder. He called me outside and told me to anticipate going home in a couple of days.

The whole idea of the catheter and urine bag seemed to be that you needed to ensure that the urine was normal in color,quantity and constituents (earlier it was reddish), before you could remove the stuff. My father seemed to think, that all this activity would actually sort of shake up things inside, and clear the stuff. Much like shaking your head to remove water drops after coming in from some rain.

Maybe its true, maybe it is a simplistic assumption
. But we were a popular sight for the next two days, as we took our walks with my artistic bag. Now even the nurses in wards waved to us, the other doctors and juniors smiled, and the folks in the lobby started to ignore us.

Soon it was time to go home. The bag was removed. The feeling of being unshackled was exhilarating .

The urine bag went to the incinerator. My embroidered bag went to the cleaners.

We went home. My father had just proved, so many years ago , what the fellows at the University in Haifa have now published.

I told you .

Monday, August 08, 2011

Book review : Chanakya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi

I received this book from Blogadda , as part of their Book Reviews Program.

The time span of the book, spans centuries. And what comes home to the reader, on turning the last page, is the undeniable feeling, that really nothing has changed when it comes to those who purport to be our rulers,and those who prop them up.

Chanakya , who lived between 350 B.C. and 75 B. C, was someone we cursorily read about in history books in school. Typically, more attention was lavished on the kings, than those who made them so.

This book manages to open the eyes. It is like watching two movies at the same time, and marvelling at the way history appeared to be repeating.

Chanakya, also known as Vishnugupta, son of Chanak, has seen his father killed at the court of the Magadh king. He escapes to the University at Takshila in the west, and by sheer brilliant learning and strategising, becomes a guru, mentor and advisor to ChandraGupta Maurya, who must rule all the kingdoms in "Bharat" one day.

Pandit Gangasagar Mishra, many many centuries later, is positioned as today's Chanakya, the "moving" hand behind the power at the top in contemporary India.

The book is written in a style that alternates between the two time bands. It is clear that events replicate themselves in some manner of speaking, with similar stuff happening in the two corresponding ages.

Chanakya, works singlemindedly towards installing ChandraGupta Maurya, using everything at his command: money, deception, the then current societal standards, women, weapons, threats, all without appearing prominent himself.

The modern day Gangaprasad Mishra, is hell bent on installing the, intriguingly named 'Chand'ani Gupta as the Prime Minister of India, and the story meanders through her journey as she transits through various levels of power; local, state, and national.

The author has managed to weave in many aspects like changing loyalties , always a function of promises of power; the belief that those educated in the "brawn" aspect fall short of those also educated in the "brain" aspect; the play of religions ; vignettes similar to recent events like hijacking of planes, and leaders being shot and injured in public meetings, even shades of a fodder scam .

Throughout the narrative, which is fairly fast paced, a person who has been reading the papers for the last 50 years, cannot help smile at some scenarios, which resemble rumors which were around in one's teenage years. There is also the England connection. And time and again one stops to think if something similar has happened in the recent past , politically, in India, and could this be an "inside" story.

It could be the passage of centuries, and the consequent dilution in the percentage of impressionable society that we have today, but one cannot deny that Chanakya's solutions appear to have more "class" overall , than those of Gangaprasad Mishra . Chanakya , certainly is more widely learned in all subjects vis-a-vis Mishraji, who, if I were to be honest, comes across as a goonda. Maybe that's what politicians are, who knows .

Chanakya's use of the Vishakanyas, the poisoning of the wells at night in Patliputra, and the antidote being poured in the morning, Chanakya's knowledge of medicinal plants, his ability to sustain disciples over long periods of time, boggles the mind.

What is a bit unbelievable , is the treatment accorded to two kings competing for the Kingdom Of Magadh, now occupied by Chandragupta. According to the story, they are cunningly welcomed in a grand manner, and are convinced to fight a duel, to decide who will rule. A bit improbable if you ask me. Difficult to believe that , say, King Paurus, would submit to this.

But then, this is a work of fiction, embellished by history, and embroidered by the threads of political happenings of the last 50 years.

This is a book of 400 odd pages. Took me some time to finish it. The book is certainly not the type that you cannot put down once you start reading; but having put it down, you are once again enthused to take it up, when free. You dont ignore it. I felt that sometimes the modus operandi followed by both Chanakya and Mishraji was repetitive.

Over all, an enjoyable read. And the download of the Chant is enjoyable.

I just have one question. Why is everything happening more or less in the Indo Gangetic plain ? Was nothing South of the Vindhyas of any consequence ? In power ? In politics ? In diplomacy ? Is that a reflection of what is happening today?

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda. Participate now to get free books!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

"Smart" humans ?

August dawned with some amazing news. Was this the end of evolution, as we know it ? And does this mean that we, as humans, have reached the limit of our smartness ?

Cambridge University researchers have announced, that to get any more smarter, was going to need lots and lots of energy and oxygen, which didn't look feasible at all, and so we as humans are now the smartest we will ever be.

This is all fine, if we assume that we basically started evolving in the correct direction, in life.

Sometimes I have my doubts. And many questions.

Just think. We are supposed to have evolved from quadrupeds, over millions of years. A look into the variety of the animal kingdom, replete with the various animals , reptiles and birds seen the world over, presents a wild array of colors. There are animals with stripes, spots, silken manes, bushy faces, displaying designs in brown, yellow , gold, white, grey, deep brown, golden brown, rust, majestic black; birds resplendent in brilliant multicolored plumage, designed to give a desperate complex to a rainbow, and reptiles and others, in smart camouflaging shades of green and brown, metallic designs simulating silk ......

And I often wonder, why, as such amazingly evolve bipeds, we have evolved into folks with such boring colors. Why are humans classified as white,black,dark,fair, brown, and sometimes yellow? At what point and why in our evolution, did we lose out on color ? How come we do not see purple, green, and silver ladies, and orange, blue and pink men ?

Is the evolution of the cerebral cortex, which is the hallmark of a human, related to the sidelining of color ?

Does it have something to do anatomical limitations on how we perceive color ?

Our eyes have photo receptors in the form of "rods" and "cones". The rods enable us to see things in the dark, and the cones have a role in allowing us to perceive colors. But color per se, is NOT just what hits the cones. Color is what results after our subconscious minds/visual brain analyses the input to the photo receptors. We humans have cones that are designed to recognize wavelengths corresponding to Red, Blue and Green, and combinations of these. The limitation is defined by the basic three wavelength ranges, and what we perceive as color is the interpretation by our visual brain that analyses what impinges on the cones.

Turns out that this is a very small part of the entire color spectrum, and many other, so called less evolved animals and birds, have a more detailed perception of color, reaching into the ultraviolet part of the spectrum. Bees are known to see into the ultraviolet range of the spectrum, and can recognize ultraviolet patterns on flower petals that guide them to where the honey is. Dogs have only 2 types of cones , making them dichromatic (we are trichromatic(RBG)). Turns out Cats are trichromatic too, but also have smarter rods in their eyes, and so can see in the dark. Reptiles are known to be able to see in the infra-red part of the spectrum. Maybe their lifestyle choices over centuries, have made their sight evolve the way it has.

So a blue we see, may not be the same blue that , say a dog, horse or cat sees. While we lose out in the spectrum stakes, where we supposedly win, is in our supposedly brilliantly evolved visual brain , interpreting what falls on the rods and cones in our eyes.

There is a comparison of patterns, before the human brain decides what it is that we are seeing. For example, the banana is always seen as yellow, regardless of what light you see it in; dull light, brilliant reflections on ice, or a normal kitchen light. The power of the visual brain. To give it a fancy name, "Color constancy".

Somewhere in our evolution , as we spruced up our cerebral cortex , wallowed and exulted the grey folds of the brain, , and learned to store, interpret , retrieve, and use information, in complicated decision making, we have become color obsessed with respect to a certain part of the spectrum. It is a classic case of having too much, too soon, so that we have no value for what we have.

A widely versatile cerebral cortex, a fine tuning of the senses, and an ability to reason, may have been a gift to mankind.

But there has been a downside.

We, as humans, have sharpened our color consciousness in the brown/black/white range. We have trained the cones in our eyes to pay more attention to wavelengths that correspond to the making up of the above colors. Thousands of years of paying excessive attention to the complexion in humans, and we have become a society , that, despite declarations to the contrary, pays obeisance to the white.

Yes , we still sense the brilliant plumage of the birds, the sometimes blinding colors amidst the flowers, and the amazing hues and textures of man made textiles and materials, but when when it comes to judging a human, a certain part of the visual brain kicks in with its, if I might say so, 'blind' input.

And so, television is replete with dark girls slathering faces with creams to cheat someone else's visual cortex; employers frowning at dark complexioned girls, and smilingly awarding jobs , albeit unfairly, to "fair" types; a pregnant pause happens, on telephonic matrimonial enquiries, when a prospective bride is described as wheatish, and some parents advise parents of physically active sports girls, to desist from the sports , because their daughter will turn "dark".

These days, I guess the cerebral cortex is really working hard in evolving. The male of the species, has exposed its vanity , and there are creams and lotions for fellows who want to look "white", so that girls who subscribe to this same vanity, can stand around and make a huge fuss over them, in what might just be called, dumb splendor.

You can evolve only thus far and no more when the direction is in error, which here it seems to be.

And so I agree with the fellows in Cambridge. We have reached a dead end in smartness. We cannot evolve any more in the direction that we have.

Maybe the homo sapien version 2.0, will be in various hues. Like in animals, we will have blue, green, purple and blue people. Folks will be more appreciative of color, and the minds will be more open . I would love to know what kind of ads there will be on television, celebrating beauty then. I would have a great big laugh at matrimonial ads , if they actually exist then.

And there will possibly a be a Great Big Bird sweeping through the sky, looking down at all the color, shaking its head, and saying, " Geez. I thought these guys would never understand. Thank God they did !..."