Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back to the Future ?

I often go back and read, something I wrote a few years ago on this blog, just to see how I feel today, about what I wrote then .  Sometimes it still makes me laugh.

Am posting a link to something I wrote about what happens to one's blog after one dies .  
Read  Apres Moi- the blog or Back to the  Future .

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Learning....and how !

The two English newspapers ( also  a Marathi one) that I get daily , in my house now , are still the same two papers, that we used to get in my childhood. There was no television, we didn't have individual radios, and I had never heard about earphones.

Reading the paper was something we were encouraged to do daily, simply to improve our general knowledge, our perception about our country, as well as familiarize ourselves and improve our practice of a language, that was not our mother tongue.

One of the biggest differences between then and now, is the amount of crime related and cheating related things that are reported  now. Yes, it can always be attributed to the the wild uncontrolled population growth , and the ease with which information can travel today.   Which it couldn't before.  But that information (that never reached the papers) could not have been all bad.

Today, ordinary actions like going to school, work, or even hospital, have an element of perceived danger. You don't breathe easy till everyone who has gone out to work/study/socialize has returned home safe. Children and misled, stolen,kidnapped, women are molested, folks are cheated. It has reached a point,where we suspect almost everyone, and then we assume entire sections to be corrupt , thanks to some representative conniving types.

 I wonder, as people, why we have turned out the way we are.Why we have learned that we need to be this way . To get ahead in life.

And as always, I turn to the human body, specifically the brain , because I often think life replicates the interactions in our anatomy.

Millions of neurons in our brain play the main part in learning. Different parts of the brain process different things like visuals, sounds, information, storage of memory etc. Neurons are all over the place, and they communicate with each other through created paths/dendrites, that intersect at what are called synapses, and pass on information.

So how does one "learn" ?

Suppose there is a lady walking towards you, and someone introduces her to you as Kamla. The image of the lady is processed by one part of the brain through the neurons there, while the details being told to you are absorbed and processed by another set of neurons. The two sets of neurons are said to have "fired" , in neurological parlance. (In neurological research it is actually possible to see specific parts of the brain light up in a representative way, on the experiment screen, showing a perturbation of those neurons. Hence the "fire" terminology.)

In addition,  there is a linking that happens between the two separate sets of neurons. It's like , one set of neurons generate some type of paths called dendrites, that kind of grow and reach out to where the other set has reached out, and forge a link. Meeting Kamla again and again, kind of underscores this link, and this makes it more pucca. This "highlighting " of the link, activates all the concerned parts of the brain when you see Kamla next, and you are said to have "learned" . You can even enhance this learning , by, say, associating her voice , wherein you create additional relational links to the audio processing neuron circuits. Repetitive events that involve these neurons enhance the learning. You create and store these memories, for later use.

In the real world, as our population increased, resources were perceived as scarce. It was necessary to "learn", to stay ahead. Not the academic type, but the street fighter type.

And so, some folks, had something,  that rung a bell in their heads when they saw an opportunity to grab easy money and power. Naturally, they recognized folks who showed up with links to the same money and power. They linked, highlighted and learned. Stored this . More and More.

And so , we have people who recognise a similarly corrupt person. Like the neurons, their ambitions fire, they forge links, which get stronger and stronger. eg Kanimozhi and A Raja. The learning happens, and they can recognize a compliant person when they see one. Forge links. Favours are exchanged over synapses, and financial , corporate and real estate dendrites are extended to each other. And so we have , scams happening all over the place. And it continues, drawing in more scammy human neurons, creating and potentiating more and more dendrite paths.  But in the real world.

The old days , when the world seemed different and safer , are like our childhoods. We had started out with millions of neurons and then continued to evolve our skills and learning as children. Who we linked up with was then , a supervised affair. By family and parents and school teachers.

Today, our population has proliferated, just like the millions of neurons in our brain. It has become impossible to ascertain all the links that are getting built up in the real world, just like,  a sometimes overburdened brain, coping with all the learning.

But there is a difference.

The brain has a finite size and is not infinitely expandable. As you create more and more learning and dendritic pathways connecting the often firing neurons, a time will come when we will exceed the available capacity, or will have to kill off the obsolete low-usage neurons to make way for the new ones.

There doesn't seem to be any such limit outside in the real world. The population increases by leaps and bounds, the variety and number of crimes that are being committed keep proliferating. Today's parents, like me , are clearly an extremely worried lot , say, compared to my parents, in their time.

Are the mindless killings, natural calamity deaths, careless deaths , and accidents that we see today, similar to the kind of adjustments made by the brain, to keep out and retire less important, low-use  neurons ?

Is this evolution ?  More important, is this how it should be ? And where does this all end ?

I wonder. And worry. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Adjourning" Days are here again !

The esteemed Members of Parliament meet again.

For a 21 day session, and are supposed to process 31 bills , which when signed by the President, are supposed to become law.

I've never figured out how they decide the length of a Parliament session.  Ideally,  that should get clear once the work on processing the 31 bills starts off, so they get an idea of how much time it takes.

Today , Parliament was adjourned  due to the condoling of the death of two members, and later due to the usual chaos , where the opposition was supposed to be  hampering the work of Parliament. Maybe tomorrow, someone will run into the well of the house, and shout slogans, and they will adjourn  the  house again.

4 hours were lost, costing the tax payer one crore Rs.

What's a few crores here and there ?  We are looking at scams running into hundreds of thousands of crores,  the possibility of a private airline being showered with a bailout of thousands of crores, albeit through banks, almost all of them nationalized. Government  still hesitates to announce the names of folks who have stashed such large fortunes in black money abroad, that recovery of these may even fund a metro railway system for some big city.

I doubt if anyone is seriously shaken up about Parliament sessions not happening and wasting crores. 

I just have one suggestion. What is this about  having "sessions" of Parliament ? Monsoon session, winter session, summer session ?  Like the various "fashion weeks" ? 

Presumably, the government needs preparation time before presenting the bills for discussion and voting.

Now that the preparation is done prior to the winter session, ( at least I hope so),  I have a suggestion.

Why not keep Parliament is session, not for just for 21 days , but till all 31 bills are passed, no matter how long it takes.   ?

(Reminds me of my school days, when the teacher would have us sit after school, and complete stuff which was due yesterday,  and we couldn't go home till we finished. This was also used as a punishment for unruly behaviour by folks in my class. The whole class got punished for a few folks behaving stupidly.  Just saying . )

There should be no concern about cost.  MP's live in subsidized conditions.  Food in Parliament is subsidized to such a level, I am not surprised that no one bothers about rising prices of food grains,  in the life of the common man.  Living quarters subsidized, communications and travel subsidized, laptops free,  junkets free,  publicity,  free.

Let them attend Parliament  without a break.  They can always shout slogans and run up and down  into the well of the house, to exercise their limbs.   The Speaker can keep attendance  through some buttons on the MP's desks.   They can have a special 2 hour break after every passed bill. 

Currently , they are objecting to the presence of a particular Minister in Parliament, because he is presumed guilty.  Other people , ordinary ones, have been thrown into jail for less.  And no one even stopped traffic for that, forget Parliament.

So get him into Parliament sessions  on Skype.  Those who don't want to see him can simply put their laptops (free) on standby or  hibernate along with their laptops.

But, for a change, get started on the 31 bills. Debate them , discuss them , even fight, call each other names, apologize, whatever.  Process the bills.  Some will pass, some will fail, but the session will end definitively.

We cannot go into the next session of Parliament again with a backlog of bills.

Ordinary citizens having backlog of bill payments,  are penalized, hounded, and humiliated.

This is but a small  price to pay, for MP's.

Just think.

They continue doing this (adjourning and delaying) for 5 years, and by law, they can retire  with a full decent pension with all kinds of assorted benefits, you and I can never hope to see in our lifetimes......   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

i-Rich x-Childhood vs Rich Childhood

Sometime ago we happened to be at a Mall, and I saw some great excitement happening over some great purchase, and two grown up chaps, kind of victoriously walked out with two biggish things in two bags. I was told by my daughter that they had bought something like Xbox related stuff. Then I recalled that she had once gone with some friends because one of them wanted to purchase a PlayStation something for  a young nephew, all of 5 years.

To this day, I don't know what these things are. All I know is that these are setups that allow you to play interactive games on screen. And I am puzzled. I mean if I was a small child and was shown this stuff, I would certainly be attracted to it, and would probably get crazy about it , in time. But what prompts  sensible well meaning adults, to buy such  things for kids at an age when they should be playing outside with other kids ?  is it a false sense of prestige, a halo that says "we are the IT generation" ,  or is it a desperation to keep up with the equally ignorant Joneses ?

As a child, we were never at a loss,  for games to play. None of these needed special things like racquets. A ball was easily available everywhere. Gardens abounded, people had swings in houses,  and we even had games that we invented that we could play on staircases.  Weekend early mornings, we would take off to the Parvati Hill temple ,  with art stuff and eating stuff, pretend to draw sunrises, while polishing off some decent poha and lemon juice, and cucumbers sprinkled with salt and cayenne. 

On cold winter evenings (Pune had and continues to have  a terrific winter season), it got dark earlier and as children we would watch my father doing his yoga exercises. Much to everyone's chagrin, we would wait till he did Sheershaasan (headstand), and then climb on a stool to try and put books on his inverted feet, to see if he could balance them . (He could. ).  We even tried out some stuff sitting alongside, trying to outdo his hum while he did  Pranayam. And our hum always ended in a fit of giggles.

Thousands of  moons later, when my children were small, they too had the run of the colony where we lived, climbing trees, collecting some strange beans , which they would religiously pound with serious intent, believing they were making cork balls, which they thought was what was inside cricket balls.  Cycling was learned.  There were tricycle and bicycle races, prizes, sandwiches and lemonade. There were bars to keep vehicles away from the lake (opposite which we lived then), and it was primarily used by my daughter to do various acrobatic somersaults, hanging by the feet  and stuff, till one day she fell down in her great enthusiasm, and some folks brought her home, and she had some stitches done  on her chin.  The two wheeler ramp in the building (being near the lake, it was a bit raised) was used for running down the slope with blue underwear over full pants, and a blue bed sheet tied at the neck, trailing behind you, in what everybody was told, was superman, all this often watched by an ambling cow, with a disgusting snort.

Of course,  cricket, football et al existed.  BCCI had not yet become greedy about TV rights, so much of it was played between 2 buildings , with someone's car licence plate as the stumps.

The best was when we visited the grandparents in Pune. And the ultimate was when the cousins from the US were also there.

Mornings were dedicated to climbing hills, going to the Peshwe Park near which we lived.  My father would carry and endless supply of peanuts, jaggery and cucumbers, carefully packed by my mother. These would be imbibed after everyone had had their fill of swings,slides, merrygorounds, see saws and the like.  Sometimes there was a boat ride. Sometimes an elephant ride. Sometimes they simply ran behind the elephant as it majestically strode around with passengers. Back home, grubby and once all the baths took place, there was this story session with Amar Chitra Kathas.  All of them would sit cheek by jowl on the sofa crushed against their grandfather, who told these stories with much expression and acting, and it was entertaining to see the kids' expressions change.  There were favourite stories told again and again. They believed every single word of what was happening.  They would even recite some of the smart sayings by someone , by heart.

When walking around to the park became difficult because of undisciplined traffic, my father would take the car. One time they were so taken in by the story of Hanuman tearing apart his chest to show  Ram Sita and Laxman  standing inside, smiling, that my father ended up driving them to an old temple in a crowded part of Pune, where an entire external wall depicted this event. In brilliant color. I can just imagine this whole group standing there gazing at all that,  watched indulgently by old ladies in nine yard sarees who had come for a pravachan....

Back from their evening trips, my father would retire to do his yoga exercises,  and all of them learnt quite a bit of them just observing him.  They behaved much better than I did at their age, and did not try to balance books on by father's feet when he did Sheershasan.   

There weren't any TV shows and stuff then, simply because my folks hadn't bought a TV but there was no lack of excitement.  I don't ever remember playing with guns myself as a child.

I don't remember that my kids ever played with guns. But I do remember, that someone once  presented my son with a small wooden sword and shield , and he used it to run after a cow that had crashed through our fence and was messing up ,  what passed for a garden then. I am sure the cow was not impressed at all with the weaponry, but probably played heed to the shouting.  And left in a hurry. With a snort.

At one point the weather became hot, and my father decided to take the car. Some additional kids were visiting and the whole lot piled into the little Fiat.  My father started the Fiat, and there was a huge noise, with smoke coming from the engine side.  ( The previous evening they had taken the car through a huge pothole. By accident, but the children were thrilled no end with the bumps.  Apparently the battery left its mooring and fell sideways inside the engine enclosure. They reached home, but the whole night, acid must have dripped all over inside. The next morning, the ignition switch was reason enough for something to cause a minor explosion inside. ). Nothing could have delighted the kids more. This was like the movies, which no one took them to see.

I remember all this, and then I wonder, about  there being hardly any toy shops then. 

Today, besides having a wide variety of toy shops,  we have a dedicated populace that believes that life is all about sitting in front of a screen and playing, say, tennis, tabletennis, wars, chasing soldiers , or whatever. Many of these "games" are  "battles" with "killing" and "revenge". The excuse given , is that there are very few green spaces in cities.  Kids spend the entire day in studies and tuitions.  Internet means you write stuff in SMS lingo on Facebook, and say things you wouldn't have the guts to say to someone's face.

There are so many contraptions, fancy phones, cameras, music systems and so many parents rich enough, who have money to spare to buy these for the children, but not the time.  For their children.

I just wonder who had a richer childhood .


Friday, November 11, 2011

Cutting Music .....

I have always been curious about medicine and its practice , right from the time I was a teenager.  At one point in my late 20's  I had an opportunity to observe a Cesarean section delivery. I stood some distance away,  mask and all, behind a screen, in the OT and watched.

While I gaped in wonder at the proceedings, the cuts and use of various instruments, the emergence of the baby as it was lifted out, and the stitching up of things,  I was  marveling at how confidently the doctor went about the job.  It was a bit disconcerting to realise that there was some endless chitchat happening between the surgeon and the anesthetist, and the assistant doctors. And this chitchat had nothing to do with the patient, the incision , the blood or whatever. The entire operation went off beautifully, and the surgeon and the anesthetist kept on a running discussion on some new Marathi musical play that had come, and their opinion on the actors, and the writer of the play, some various inside information someone had heard, and so on.  This was in the 70's.

Today, the sound quality of music that is played has improved tremendously.  Numerous genres of music are there,  and music has become an important part of the environment. In its conservative piped in version, it is played in banks, malls, airports, lobbies, and so on. Recently , I  had occasion to attend to someone in the ICCU of a hospital, and they even had music, for us to "wait by",  as we stayed endlessly in the waiting area , day after day.

Music as therapy for the sick, has been researched and proved beneficial. There are surgeons , who listen to favourite music in the OT,  and patients who need less anaesthesia, when they listen to music on headphones while going under.  Possibly then,  the  music crescendos, and thrust-and-parry, of say, the late Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's "tanaas",  would co-exist in the OT, in delicate contrast to the quiet, careful, studied , detailed, careful investigation into some one's innards, a cut here, a cauterisation there, a snip somewhere else, and a slapping of tools into some one's capable hands. 

 There is new research to show, that music also improves investigative capabilities of doctors.

 I have just come across this .  And I don't know whether to be amused or impressed.

As reported on Oct 31, 2011 , it says ,"Physicians who listen to Mozart while performing colonoscopy may increase their detection rates of precancerous polyps, according to the results of a new study unveiled at the American College of Gastroenterology's (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, DC."

Adenomas(tumorlike growths )  are precursors to getting colon cancer, so anything we can do to be able to  detect more adenomas in the colon, during a given procedure, will save lives later on.

The above research suggests, in simple terms,  that the mental ability of a surgeon looking for polyps in the colon reaches a peak when music is playing.

Whether it could be better enhanced by playing Beethoven, Handel,  Yanni, Abba, Beatles, A. R.  Rehman,  Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Shankar Mahadevan or Lady Gaga is not clear.

That there is a connection between music and medicine has been known . Apollo, the Greek god of healing, was portrayed playing a lyre.  In a survey done in UK, it revealed that 90% of the surgeons had their sound systems playing music while operating, half of those even preferred listening to high tempo rock music, and strangely plastic surgeons played the most music, and ENT surgeons the least

However, while music and surgery seems to be a win-win thing most of the time, a study done in 2008 and published in a journal called Surgical Endoscopy  revealed that novice surgeons performed less well, while music was on in the OT, because they actually thought it was a distraction.  The prospect of trying to extract a shaky mass of something from someones abdomen while listening to , say, the loud leading bars of 2001 Space Odyssey , or even a fast paced Jai Ho ! might be a trifle disturbing.   Just saying.

But the question remains.

Why Mozart ?  and why , only the colon ?  And has anyone done any experiments , playing Mozart, looking for polyps in other places , like say, the nose,  or small intestine ?  Does the outcome of investigations improve when words are put to the music ?

Research can possibly come up with so many options, specifying anatomy-music combinations. Like colon-Mozart, colon-Beethoven, appendix-tabla-percussion,  adenoids-shehnai,  stomach- dholak/drums, gullet-flute,  pancreas-harmonium and so on.

But the real fun would be when specific songs could be played for specific purposes .

Like a coronary artery Stenting  being done to the very fitting tune of Bridge over troubled Waters by Simon and Garfunkel.

 Like  Bariatric (stomach stapling) surgery being conducted to the plaintive sounds of Let-it-Be  by the Beatles.

Like a tumor being removed or excised,   as Killing me Softly , is sung soulfully by Roberta Flack.

Of course, the ideal song to be played during, say,  Bypass Surgeries, Heart Transplants and so on would be  My heart will go on, by Celine Dion.   To be followed shortly by My heart is beating  from the film Julie.

Deviated Septum (crooked nose) surgeries would be done to the tune of Himesh Reshammiya songs, encouraging more powerful straightening of the septum.

What might be considered the most intriguing use of music in medicine  can probably be attribute to consultant urologist Ben Challacombe, in Guys Hospital, London. He does delicate robotic kidney surgery. While extracting and removing a cancerous tumor from a kidney , there is a 30 minute window in which this must be accomplished.  Normally , they have someone calling out the time.  Which probably feels intimidating , so to speak. So what he does is that he has 6 , five minute music tracks playing in the OT , starting at the beginning of the window period.   The music goes along well with his surgery, and he knows at any given time where he is in that 30 minute window.

Of course there are older surgeon types, who even listen to opera while operating,  though I wouldn't want to be around there while he makes cuts here and there, as some soprano really decides to belt out high pitched arias.

There is a lot of music in the sidebar of this blog page. One of the most popular songs of Marathi Cinema currently, has to do with a lavni dancer doing her stuff, telling the hero, in  a song that goes "mala Jaaoode na ghari, ata wajale ki bara " (= Let me go home, it's almost 12 now....).......and this song is there in the play list.

If I am ever a patient in a musical OT , I'd love to have this play as they wheel me out of surgery to the recovery room.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Book review : "The 7 Secrets of Vishnu

I received the book, "7 Secrets of Vishnu" by Devdutt Pattanaik, (Westland, 2011)  for review, as part of the Blogadda Book reviews program.

I have read the author in his columns published on Sundays in newspapers, and have found his take on our Hindu Mythology quite intriguing.  I liked his style of writing, and so I looked forward to reading  "7 Secrets of Vishnu".

Basically this is about the seven avatars of Vishnu.  These are Mohini, Matsya, Kurma, Trivikrama, Ram, Krishna , and Kalki, and the various stories that are associated with these  in our Mythology.    It is interesting to learn, that due to the variety of regions, societies, and cultures followed in our country, there are interesting variations on the basic stories; in the sense that stories that I heard in my childhood 50 years ago, are heard with a slight variation, by someone else , say in the deep south, and maybe eastern India.

The author looks at these avatars and the various stories, as something that teaches us values:  Spiritual aspects  and Material aspects; what is essential for our proper growth and development as a society and as human beings; and what happens when we do not follow things . There are many stories one may have heard earlier or read earlier about, but here the author goes to the trouble of explaining what it is trying to imply in the way we give importance to the development of our  spiritual and material lives.

The number of different characters introduced in the initial chapters are large. It becomes a bit difficult to remember who is what. And one tends to turn back the pages to check things out. It becomes difficult to digest all the happenings.  Then there are a few clarifications. One always thought that "Devas "  were Gods who could do no wrong. The author explains that Devas and Asuras are brothers . Then again, Vishnu is defined as representing the material aspect of living, while Shiva represents the spiritual aspect . Laxmi , the consort of Vishnu (as known to us from childhood) has an intriguing role to play, that representing the materialistic aspects of life, while Saraswati , the other consort (I didn't know that; always thought she was by herself)  emphasizes the spiritual facets of living. Both are needed,  and excess of any has its own consequences.

One admires the author's ability to corelate  our basic repetitive functions of farming, sowing and harvesting  to births and deaths/killings, and rebirths. 

A few questions on Lakshmi, and her flitting from the side of Indra, to the Asuras, and then to the side of Vishnu. Where one gets the impression, that she is smitten with Vishnu, but her being there or not is just fine with Vishnu. This treatment is a bit disturbing. 

What is very new for me, is how the author describes the various Yugs, Krita Yug,Treta Yug, Dwapar Yug, and KaliYug, and shows a correspondence with the four stages of our lives on earth.  It is also very interesting to learn of the earth/Prithvi, being looked upon as a cow, standing in different balance modes corresponding to the Yugas. The most balance on four legs, during KritaYug, and the least balance  on a single leg during  KaliYug.

The author, in the course of the various chapters also elaborates on how some names have come about, which is very interesting, eg. the name Prithvi for earth.

There is so much that one can write here, and so much the author has written. It is difficult to assimilate all this in one read. You need to refer to this book again and again.   The book is illustrated with some amazingly marked  intricate figures, where the author takes the trouble of explaining the specialities of the particular God in a particular pose or avatar. 

The chapter I enjoyed the most , was that about Krishna, as an avatar of Vishnu. The childhood, the mischief, the humanness of Krishna, the maturing and departure for Mathura/Vrindavan, the firmness and stoicism about leaving his nurturers behind, the amazing mixture of tough philosophy, advice, and guidance given during the Kurukshetra war, his sense of justice at comforting Gandhari at her loss of 100 sons , and listening to her curse him. One can go on and on.    

One gets a bit overcome with the sheer number of characters, human, half human and animal type in the book.  One reading of this book is not enough. Going back and reading a particular part again, would possibly enhance one's understanding in a nonlinear way.

I think older folks will enjoy this book more, than say folks in their late 20's.

Its an amazing book.  Though I dearly wish, they had provided an index at the back  for quicker reference.  

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"S." in the time of 3-day weekends....!

My household help, "S.", a hitherto greatly admired lady in the blog world (she knows I write about her), came in this morning, after what must have been a great 3 day weekend for her. She had been telling me much in advance about going away for three days at this time, so as to not inconvenience me , and so that I could mobilize for S-less days, and schedule my stuff accordingly.

S. is a great follower of the late Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, and is a Buddhist. They have a community hall in their crowded locality, where she is an office holder of the local Buddhist Women's Association. Smart, "illiterate", sensible "S.", was earlier the treasurer, and would plan the community events with great care and attention. She probably did an excellent job, despite being unable to read numbers and alphabets , because she is now the President of the group.

Some local folks recently announced a bus trip over the 3 day weekend that just got over. Folks would be picked up, and would travel to the ancestral village of Dr Ambedkar , Ambavade, in the coastal Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. After spending some time at the memorial there and visiting with his remnant family, they would then proceed to his first wife, Ramabai's ancestral village , about 50 kilometres away, at Wanand , in the Dapoli area of Ratnagiri District. The idea was to spend some time there visiting, learning about her, talking to folks, have a late tea/snacks session, and then drive and spend the night at a hill station , Mahabaleshwar, about 110 kilometres from there.

The drive,  although  not a big distance in kilometres, was through several small internal roads,  some through hilly areas, away from highways, and so quite timeconsuming.  

The amazing thing was, that her overall family budget decreed that two people could go, and her family urged S and her daughter to do this trip. They took along the eldest grandson (he went free), a very talkative,curious fellow , all of 5 years, who had started school. With a new grandson in the family and other small grandsons, this would give a break to those who stayed at home, and S told me she thought it might do the eldest fellow some good to see places around where so much history happened.

S cannot read or write, but her descriptions of the trip would make a great travelogue. Leaving at dawn in Mumbai, following the coastal highway to  Dr Ambedkar's native village , Ambavade, way inland from the coast, and they reached there at 1 pm. Visited the village center, met and spoke with a nephew (of the great man) who still lives there. A simple village lunch was organized for them. Then to visit the ancestral maternal village of Dr Ambedkar's wife, Ramabai Ambedkar, a small village called Wanand, more on the coastal part (Dapoli) of the same district.

The late Ramabai(1896-1935), was married to Dr Ambedkar when he was 17, and she was 9 , in 1906. While he left to study in England, she continued to slog and support her siblings in their ancestral village in very difficult situations. On  Dr. Ambedkar's return, she was a great support to him in his campaigns, and was with him till she died in 1935.

This trip, for S, was to see and meet people in places , she had just heard about till now. Ramabai Ambedkar is greatly revered by folks, and S wanted her grandson to also see, how the rest of the country outside Mumbai lived.

The trip wasn't all educational and serious, she said. From Wanand, they drove 110 kms, to Mahabaleshwar, a very popular hill station , in the mountainous Satara District, to spend the night there. The entire route , after the recent monsoon must have been a wonderful green.

A great day spent sightseeing, visiting river origins, the famous Venna Lake, strawberry farms and factories making delicious strawberry stuff, and it was time to return to Mumbai on the third day. (Mahabaleshwar is famous for its strawberries).

An amazing and nice change for S, where meals and lodging was taken care of,  and she could just enjoy the trip.

En route, they passed and stopped at Pratapgadh, a wonderful mountain fort, made famous by Chhatrapati Shivaji, a great Maratha warrior King revered in the state. Her young grandson was dizzy with all the mountain climbs and descents, complained of "chest pain" (if you will) , and forgot all about it the minute they spied the steps ascending to the top of the fort.

Naturally, there were a bunch of things for sale , and the fellow was hoping to buy a big toy sword and shield, costing 150 Rs much to S's chagrin.

"It's all this TV stuff. He thinks he can charge around battling with it, and its just an invitation to get into situations where someone will be hurt ", she told me. And so she convinced him that a set of binoculars was better, and he could watch the stuff from the bus, and see things like birds, and animals, and sceneries that others couldn't etc etc. He could even later see the Thane creek from the hilltop, after he got home, and show his brothers and uncles.

I was amazed at the firmness with which S dealt with this. I know kids who create a racket in toy shops till they get what they want. Regardless of price. Some parents just give up, and give in. Between the sales person's strategy, a possible new reputation as a  stingy parent, and unwillingness to become unpopular and be criticized, some attach great value to the ability to spend money easily, and substitute money for reasoned thought.

And here was S, convincing a chap to enjoy a binocular; much cheaper than the sword by all means, but certainly more useful, and shareable.

But what was amazing was what she got for my daughter, when she came in this morning. In this whole fast paced , event packed trip, she had bought a packet of strawberry chews from the strawberry factory in Mahabaleshwar ! The thrilled recipient of these goodies, took a photo of it for this blog, before it was opened , and  shared with the family and , of course , S !

All I can say is , "wow!"......

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Politicians, Dogs, and Banners

In the area where I live,  the population has increased by leaps and bounds over the years, with lots of commercial establishments, housing areas, schools, hospitals etc coming up.  In all these new fangled posh establishments, some of us still prefer to go to the old tried and tested, places. One such , is a polyclinic,  run by an old established  landowning family, where our dentist has practiced for the past so any years, way before we became an official suburb.

The local prominent landowner's descendants, are active in politics, and like to think they represent us. The 2009 general elections  saw some desperate campaigning.

I was once sitting in the dentists chair, in great discomfort and pain,  some retractor type stuff stuck in my mouth, 5 circular lights shining into my face, when someone knocked on the door and entered in.  I could still glance sideways and could see a fellow in a "leader's" white khadi outfit, walking in with folded hands. Much welcoming and greeting, and he asked for us to come and vote for him. After small talk, much facetious smiling, he moved on, into some other doctor's chambers, to interrupt someone else again.   Soon after he went, the old lady , a doctor, whose doctor daughter currently managed the polyclinic came by. My dentist took a short break to greet and talk to her , out of respect. 

"He came to touch my feet before starting the campaign. I  told him, this time you must win with a great majority. " she said. (She had known his late father, the original elected person). "It will be good. All those land cases of his, which are stuck, will then get cleared ! "

(I didn't have too much of a problem gaping in shock, since my mouth was held wide open anyway )  . Politics was that blatantly practiced. (Or should I say, "is " ?...)

Subsequently, with tons of hoardings from various candidates, blaring announcements,  endless freebies being handed out and promised, the man got elected, and since then has joined what I call the Hoarding brigade.

Your work needn't speak, but your image, with folded hands, a big cutout, with photos of all your chamchas, (apple-polishers) with their designations, as well as National leaders, past and present, dead or alive,  on a huge hoarding,  was supposed to speak loudly.

It indicated that you were always consulted by them, you knew them, played marbles in childhood with them, were related to them, were as crooked as them, whatever.....

It's not only your subordinates, but  these leaders have no qualms having their pictures  on hoardings, next to late Mahatma Gandhi, late Indira Gandhi(and her assorted late and living family members, the PM, local chief ministers, leaders of the opposition, sometimes even the President of the country.  Someone is always congratulating someone on a (rigged) election, birthday, or welcoming someone with creative spelling mistakes, all this on huge wide hoardings, placed with a blatant disregard for gates, traffic signals, trees, windows of apartments and houses, all so you can see it from a distance.

One of our cricket commentators on TV, decided to spearhead a "remove hoardings" campaign in a gap between his cricket commitments. He met political power-folks, who were photographed agreeing with him 100%, a campaign to remove hoardings was announced. The major local paper took it up.  For a while it looked like it would work.  The municipal authorities, had to depute a vehicle, and 4 people to remove a single hoarding, and most of the hoardings put up (50%) were illegal, where no permission was taken. 

In Mumbai , at least 500 Hoardings fill the skyline everyday .  Announcing social initiatives, visits, birthdays, and assorted religious festivals of every type imaginable. (You must cater to all communities, to be perceived as secular).  Some housing societies crib about ventilation being hindered, light being insufficient due to these huge swathes of fabric hanging across, etc. Some tear these down, some get threatened by goons. Some folks who came to visit us once even missed the turn at our locality gate, because there was a huge hording of a politician covering the wall at the entrance.  And then there are hoarding wars. Candidates  try to out do each other  in size of hoarding, eminent leaders images,  occasions, and followers photos. There have been instances of someone tearing down hoardings and then some coming up overnight. Clearly, political pressure, and law and order folks keep away from each other.

My hometown, Pune , is often criticised for its banners, and signs outside houses and roads.  People from other towns,  like to make fun of this. There are even facebook pages dedicated to this.

And so it was with a sense of great delight that i chanced upon this wonderful pseudopolitical banner displayed recently in the Pune suburb of Hadapser.  Prominently on a corner building.

It celebrated the birthday of a Dog called MaxiDada (Maxi being his name, and Dada a suffix added to indicate seniority). It also  exhibited names and designations of office bearer dogs,( named Bruno,Moti and Brani), and one office bearer Cat (named Money...err Mani),  who featured on the banner, wishing their leader heartily on his birthday. The banner , predictably spanned across two floors of a multistoreyed building, and suitably blocked someone's corner balcony.

I really don't know if anyone cribbed about this. I don't know if anyone tore it down. I even wonder if any political goon types even noticed it and learned a lesson.

Someone said this was a project by some disgusted senior citizens of the area.

But what i enjoyed the best was a comment by someone saying, "please don't insult the dogs.... "