Monday, December 31, 2012

A day in the life of "T"......

The television. The newspapers. Twitter. Facebook. News about Nirbhaya and the protests. Reactions. The strange unexplainable governmental silences. Early Saturday morning brought the news.  

It was too late for the Saturday newspapers, and  then Sunday newspapers were full of it.

My morning household help "T", (who now shares some of "S"'s work , as  the latter is getting on in years"), comes very early, even on Sundays, and saw me immersed in the extra papers we get only on Sundays. She was finishing up, and   I got up to make an extra cup of tea for me and her.

"Did you hear about the girl ? "   Me

"Which girl ?"  "T" , looking puzzled.

"The one in Delhi, who was battling for her life in a Delhi Hospital, and who they sent to Singapore suddenly overnight ?  She died ..."    Me.

"Which girl ? What happened ?  No, I hadn't heard anything about any girl...."   "T" now confused, and asked me what it was all about.

I wondered to myself  how all this did not reach her.  

I told her. 

"T" lives in a slum area in the hills a bit away from us. Works 5 houses a day. Goes home in the afternoon, to cook and clean in her own house, and sometimes  rushes to fill water at the communal tap, if the water has played truant at dawn.  Her two teenage kids , one of them a stepson, come home late after work and evening college, and she stays awake with dinner till they return and study almost till midnight. Dawn heralds the arrival of low pressure water in the communal taps, where she rushes at 4 am. She has an old TV , and still doesn't get time to watch , because with the miles she walks daily to work and back, through questionable neighborhoods,  besides saving transportation costs, tires her a lot, and she rests occasionally when at home.

She had not heard a thing about this.  She gets no newspapers. She, a widow,  keeps to herself in her home, to avoid tangling with inquisitive types with questionable intentions, and is very wary about the goonda element in her locality and the effect they may have on her sons. She once told me she was glad her daughter was older, married and living away in a different better locality, as this was no place for a girl .   

She set down her broom, and listened to the whole thing as I told her that the murderers had been all caught and in prison.  She nodded in support when I told her about the protests in Delhi, and the attacks on protesters. Shocked and stunned.

And I wondered.  How we take so many things like "leisure" for granted. There was a massive churning amidst the populace in reaction to this heinous crime, and we had all the time to immerse ourselves, read, discuss, react and shout about it. 

And "T" lived in an area, where this probably frequently happened and no one was caught and blamed.  Where parents and single parents like her, burned their energies, time and money ensuring their children kept away from the bad influences. They never believed the  custodians of the law, and the leaders , who "T" said came only to "buy" their vote.  And who did nothing when such crimes happened. 

"T" thinks Delhi is something great. It's the capital. So it has to be something great. All the speeches and parades , and awards happen there in glittering splendour.  She sees fleeting glimpses when the sons put the TV on, or when she notices a photo in a newspaper that was used to wrap up something from a shop. She doesn't care to know the names of any of the big folks in Delhi. Or what they do.  

I told her they were now thinking of making the laws much stricter, and the work places and transport safer for women. 

And she said " I hope this trickles down to us in my lifetime.  Every alternate house in my locality, has drunkard husbands, and sons who boss around, demand things, and even slap their own when their demands are not met. For women with daughters it is even worse. Who do we complain to ?"

And I thought,  there must be millions of women like T , completely uninformed about what had happened to shake up a lackadaisical nation, the fight of a brave girl. 

They probably understand what happened much better because they see it everywhere around them. They prioritize their own family's needs and work around those, constructing their own diversions across dangerous paths.  

They don't argue about life imprisonments and  death penalties and pardons.  They have nothing to say about 1 man commissions.  But they understand anger. And its management.  It is a skill developed without formal education. Passed on to the children, carefully and strictly.

T tells me she wont be able to come the next day, as she needs to go to the kid's college to pay fees. She doesn't send the teenage kid  with large sums of money, as there are elements in the neighborhood who are known to threaten the kids and steal it.  (And these "large" sums are those we spend on something, saying how cheap the thing was on sale.....)

One more day over. One more step in life successfully  completed. 

I wonder how many more like T .  I wonder how their lives will change. Or will they ?


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Straightened Lives ....

Genetics is never enough.

I mean I can show you proof, that a wavy haired mother and a father with more visible scalp and less hair, can beget a son with straight silky hair, which does not stay in place easily.

I can also allow you to meet a member of the same family, whose hair, for years together,  grew radially outward in curls. Somewhere at the fag end of teenage , and the onset of twenties, there was this big urge to straighten things out.

Thoughts, Attitudes, and most of all, hair.

The first two, are an ongoing process.  The last one, has introduced me to several technologies.

"I beat Venus Williams technology" :    You buy a packet of say, a hundred tiny rubber bands. Nobody really counts them, but then you don't count your hair either. You establish yourself on a sofa with a comb, in front of the television, with Fear Factor on, and for the next three hours  make millions of little braids that end with a tight rubberband. Between the braids drooping under their own engineering, and the visual hair paths created due to tight pulling of hair, you are a vision. You sleep on this, and next morning, you spend a similar time unravelling all this. Yes, the hair looks a bit straightened, like a chastened child, but you still don't play tennis like Venus.

"Steam Iron Special"  :  Gives a new meaning to to Hair Spray. Except now it is plain water that you spray through the spray iron. Use a large toothed comb, and comb out the wet hair , and then actually iron it . Someone once tried this with the head down on the ironing board, and said it felt like a guillotine. Moving irons across hair holding it straight as you stand up, has been tried , with marginal success.

Ganna Juice technology :  Uses the Ganna Juice press in off hours.  The Ganna Juice platform is cleared of all patelas, glasses, strainers et all, and you lie back on it with your hair inserted into the press, instead of sugarcanes. You may use this manually and electrically, though the latter involves quick use of on and off buttons, and you need to extract yourself out during the Off status.  Of course, folks like ants, have noticed a certain sweet flavor and texture to the resulting hair, not to mention certain fibre streaks, so much the fashion now.

Rapunzel technology : Specially for super long hair. Our tropical country allows us to stand in balconies and dry our wet hair. This has been a custom since balconies became popular.  That this could be used by the construction folks to allow folks to climb , has occurred to certain greedy minds. The ensuing pull would be sufficient to straighten the hair. But as expected, the construction industry is dicey, and someone is insisting on helmets. So we wait for this civil technology to take root.

Multipurpose door railing technology: This is again for more than shoulder length hair, and folks who need to become tall. The age old technique of hanging from horizontal door railing, and pulling your self up. The hair is tied to the railing, and it gets nicely stretched on your way down from the railing. Muscles relax as the hair pulls, and vice versa.  Recommended 50 pull ups/pulldowns a day.

Shampoos and stuff :  These things are a bit less drastic than all the above. I hear Sunsilk types have something where you shampoo your hair, wash it and then slather on some stuff , leaving it in for a while. You then wash it again, and voila, when you comb and dry out , you get a new look with straight hair.

Of course, there are levels of straight. There is solid straight as in rod, where if you twirl around, someone gets injured; there is straight as in broom, where if you twirl around, someone gets clean. And then there is straight, with just a hint of the earlier curl.  You can adjust this depending on how long you leave thing on in your hair.

However. In keeping with the e-fication of everything today, there is a new technology that involves the Government. No, you do not need an Adhar card, or PAN card, and there is no last date to apply for this.  And most of all, this technology is self sustaining, and green.

Aam Barber technology :  Raw material permanently available, and while all other technologies will drive Aam Barbers out of business, all you need here is a brave barber......

Let me tell a story, I just heard,  to illustrate it.

"While cutting hair, the official Barber asked the Minister,
‘’What’s this Swiss Bank issue?”

The Minister shouted, “You! Are you cutting hair or conducting an inquiry?”
Barber:  "Sorry Sir, I just asked."

Next day, while cutting the hair, he asked President ,
“Sir, what’s this Black money issue?’’
The President shouted, ‘’Why did you ask me this question?’’
Barber: ‘’Sorry Sir, just asked you’’
Next day, CBI interrogated the Barber, ‘’Are you an agent of  Aba Namdev?’’

Barber: No Sir.

CBI: "Are you the agent of  Nana Azare?"

Barber: No Sir.

CBI: "Are you the agent of  Sarvind  Bajriwal?"

Barber: No Sir.

CBI: Then while cutting the hair, why do you ask  Ministers about Swiss Bank and Black money issues?

Barber: "Sir, I do not know why, when I ask about Swiss Bank or Black money,  Ministers’ hairs stand up straight; and that helps me to cut the hair easily; that’s why I keep asking."
This really is the cutting edge  :-)  hair straightening technology. 
 Creates an intelligent, curious, informed citizenry,  straight hair, and does not spoil the environment.  No discriminating between genders.  
 I have seen a TV ad where a girl has such straight hair, you can tie knots with it to a truck's fenders; and then pull the truck!
You know, straight hair isn't meant for that. We have tow trucks. It is better to be a smart, silky haired, honest, socially responsible straight haired  cop, and write a ticket for that truck.
For everyone else, there is the Sun, there is the Silk. And then there is the aforementioned technology.
You choose !

This post is a part of The Sunsilk Hair Experiment on IndiBlogger.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Corprate "Narowa Kunjarowa".....

One of the signs of being powerful, is when you become an expert in giving unclear ambiguous answers, all the while behaving as if these are definitive answers.

Unable to decide if you want a gulab jamoon or cake is OK; it doesn't hurt anyone except you  (Whatever you chose ,it is bad for you).

Unable to say yes or no when asked if you like the gift you have just received ?  Its a toss up between lying and hurting someone. And lying is so much easier.

It even happened in the scriptures. Kaurava Senapati Guru Dronacharya , with his special powers was invincible. Lord Krishna, advised folks to kill an  elephant called Ashwatthama and then go around spreading the news that Ashwatthama was dead.  Unfortunately, Guru Drona's son bore the same name. Assailed by doubts he decided to ask Yudhistir.  So when eldest Pandava Yudhishtir, known for always telling the truth,  was asked about it, he gave an ambiguous answer with the voice volume selectively modulated. All said amidst celebratory planned conch shell blowing, shouting  et al to drown the clarity.

He said "Narowa Kunjarowa".  (Which isn't Japanese. Please. )  It is Sanskrit for saying,  in this case that " it could be elephant or man ".  Who was dead.  Guru Drona,did not hear the elephant part, and  unable to handle this news which he presumed was about his son, laid down his arms and along with it a big strength of the Kauravas in the battle.  Yudhistira, whose chariot always rode so many feet above the ground in celebration of his erstwhile single minded truthfulness, suddenly noticed his chariot touch the earth, hopefully with a thud.   

Politicians do this all the time. The Narowa Kunjarowa stuff.  A step towards "power".

 Conversely, someone who is really good and habituated to this, will always make a good politician, and possibly has an excellent future in the realm of power.

We Indians even have a "head bobble"  which comes to us naturally, but to others feels as if we are being ambiguous about yes and no.   

The trouble is , all these things are feasible when you have a fancy title,  give oral instructions, blow conch shells to drown answers, and employ a lot of PR.

You don't have to write down things.  And send them to people.

But then sometimes, one even has long transcripts of emails, all in black white and even color, documenting one thing

Telling you one thing. "No permissions were taken"

Then you get another email from another bigger party, saying exactly the opposite regarding whoever sent the earlier emails. "Permissions were taken.."

Happened in the case of two parties concerned with the appearance of my copyrighted post  in one of the leading newspapers.  See my earlier post.

Turns out (as of Monday Dec 24, 2012, just received email), that the book where  my article was published  in print, was sent to TOI for review a long time ago, and permission was given then. (And everyone forgot. ) The paper then gets to print excerpts of the book, without special permission, and the publisher is grateful for the free publicity.  This happened so long ago, possibly 2011, that the junior staff at the publisher who handled it forgot all about it. 

Stupid Me. And I thought that when they review and publish, at the end of what they have to say, they always give details about the book, such as its full title, pagination, ISBN, year of publication, publisher, and sometimes, price.  

What appeared in the Times didn't look like a review to me. If they reviewed the book earlier in 2012, I  have not seen it. This Dec 9, 2012  thing was a plain and simple printing of my article, that too, with their own title on top. 

No clarity in all this. All ambiguous.  In posh terms it is called Human Error.    

I guess the Pandavas won the battle, but not the war.  Yudhishtir's exalted status for honesty came down several notches,  post-Mahabharata  the descendants of the Pandavas messed things up with their misrule, and the Yadavas fought each other. 

Every thing   came to a head with a massive flood, rising of the seas, and the drowning of that civilization under the ocean.

Yes, I know world will not end, the Mayans may have made a mistake. It's OK.

One set of rulers will go, another set will come.   

Somehow, I do not know who to believe. About the emails. Or whether i should even bother.

I feel like the elephant Ashwatthama.  Who quietly died. Unambiguously.

While all around folks were ambiguously misrepresenting things

So that they might simply  get on with their business of power ....

Friday, December 21, 2012

Jo mera hai woh tera NAHI hai.......or the Times of Indignation

I have now been blogging for 6 years. And counting. The sheer expanse of years, thanks to being on the wrong side of 60, and the rich experiences and amazing people I have met , make for wonderful subjects when I think of doing a post.

Think of millions  of folks like me, writing up stuff , and posting it.

We now have a publicly available mighty source of  articles anyone can read. Some read, enjoy, comment and discuss.

And some, use the blogosphere as an infinite sink from which to blatantly pick up articles to fill up their columns in print. 

In 2011, one such post of mine, "A touch of a thousand words" was selected by the publishers/editors  of the Chicken Soup series of books, for inclusion in the Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul-A Book of miracles. I signed a contract, and was delighted to get my 2 free copies and a payment .

Imagine my consternation when a friend from Delhi, saw my entire Chicken Soup article, published under a title called Soul Soup , in Dec 9, 2012, in the New Delhi edition of the Sunday "The Speaking Tree" weekly edition on page 4. It mentioned my name, the book series, and the publisher.  She told me about it, and was aghast when she learned that I had no clue about its appearance, since I was not contacted. She even sent me the hard copy of the paper.

Strangely enough, when I tried looking at the e-version of this , the other articles by folks like Ashwin Sanghi, also  on Page 4 that day , showed up , but my article did not show up.  The said article by Ashwin Sanghi appeared next to my article column in the actual paper, and should have shown up in the e version. 

Something in my contract with the publishers mentioned that people needed to take permission of the publisher before reproducing the article.  I checked with the editor and publisher, and was told that no permissions were asked . I have emails saying that.

I hold the copyright to that printed article.  The blog post of mine that I submitted that later got selected, appears on my blog with a creative Commons license declarations on screen.

I would like to ask why big media houses like Times of India, with all their resources, libraries, eminent contributors, staff, hardware software and humanware, feel it necessary to blatantly pick up articles written by others in violation of copyright.  What stops them from sending a quick email and asking for permission ?   

(To be fair, Femina once featured my blog link  and some small information about me on one of their pages.  They emailed, communicated and took permission before proceeding. And informed me when it appeared in the magazine. No problems.  )

I had an earlier experience with another leading Mumbai newspaper, that published another blog post without my explicit permission.  I was told I gave permission. I sent them copies of emails exchanged, that clearly asked them to check with me and ask before using my material. And that they never asked  for it, regarding that post.

They then said they would not compensate monetarily , as the online page where it appeared was "demonetized" ie it did not earn them revenue !. Despite Google ads showing up with liver transplant,singing classes, housing and Air India ads to name a few. Then I was told Google ads happen by themselves.  I had to remind them that surprise, surprise , I knew one needs to sign up for Google AdSense, and one earns from that.  I just wondered what someone who didn't know about Google ads would have done . Maybe they thought they could intimidate with jargon like demonetise and lies about Google ads. I have the entire email history record of when this was discussed.    After a detailed skirmish, they sent me a cheque and apologized. 

Is this a sign of the times ? Is lawlessness, powerhungryness, and blatant lifting, the new  mantra amongst the media types ? Are scruples old-fashioned ?  Does ambition blind ?  Is taking some one's permission a sign of weakness ?  And does everything operate on the basis of quid-pro-quid ?

Would their attitude change if I was an advertiser of the paper ?

We see this trespassing attitude everywhere. Chalega. Usme kya hai ? Dekh Lenge. Rules are for others. 

See how those in power behave across the country. Personally or commercially.

They say money speaks. Having a lot, and being  a big set-up media outfit is a potent combination that sometimes misleads folks.

 And makes them forget what the elders/founders  taught them when they were little. 

To say Please, and May I, and Thank you

 (I am in communication with the folks of TOI.   So, I am told,  are the publishers.   Waiting for a response.  Me, that is.  None as yet, 24 hours after email was sent.  Will update when I hear from them.  )



Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Search.....

Long ,long time ago, folks got their children married, without them(the couple)  ever meeting before marriage. Those who watch the wonderful Marathi serial "Unch Maaza, Jhoka" will know what I am saying.

In the early and middle part of the last century, you met each other from a distance.

Somewhere in the latter half, families met over kande-pohe, tea etc, and introduced their children, and the couple got several chances to meet over coffee et al later , and decide. (I can only talk about urban middle class Maharashtra).

The last quarter of the century saw a pattern change.  The children were actually asked about their preferences , and parents kept on the lookout for likely candidates, along with their children. Sometimes it was formal introductions, sometimes informal hellos. Sometimes all this led you somewhere, sometimes it didn't and you changed track.

Today , we are in the era of marriage portals, that advertise on television, have web pages, Internet searches, and  specify all kinds of things on their individual pages, , about, say grooms, that you would have found out earlier only a month after you got married.

Like,  he is a limited conversationalist or a non stop talker. Religious/Non religious.   Owns a two wheeler/four wheeler. Desktop. laptop. Sometimes even owns a flat.  Hangs out of Facebook, Linkedin.  For some reason, ownership of a split AC is considered a big plus. He enjoys mainly vegetarian food, of the non spicy type, fast food or non vegetarian  for some change. Most fellows enjoy some sports, some mention proficiencies, and hobbies like music,photography, social service, and so on.  There are instances of someone mentioning " I like to roam"  as a hobby .....

Some portals have a "verified" category of grooms. Some agency telephones  the house to verify what information is given, for an extra charge. When folks at the other end of the phone answer in affirmative to the things asked , the groom is declared "verified" . 

Amazingly, when it comes to expectations of how the girl should be, most fellows specify ability to live in joint families, and that the girl must have the ability to look after his family .  They  specify, not just their choice in terms of height, build, community,  existence of glasses/contact lenses, complexion, job, possible salary,  acceptable cities (where she might hail from) , diet preferences, but a set of acceptable degrees !

Grooms resident abroad with parents ask for GRE-TOEFL exam scores of prospective brides. It is not unusual for fellows to specify highly qualified, and educated brides, with say one or more of CA, LL.B, CS, CWA, BTECH, BE, MBA, B.Arch, MBBS, M.D., Interior Decorator, BBA, B.Com . And before I forget, B. Physiotherapy.  Of course, M.Sc, Ph.D  are also tolerated.  Some even specify  the MBA specialization; HR, Finance et al.  (All the above choices were actually specified by a single groom candidate).

Some parents are known to send regrets saying "we are looking for a BE ot IT  girl"....  despite everything about the girl being nice , except her wrong degree.
Is this a collaboration , merger or both ?

Then there are what one may call personal details of his own that the groom supplies.  Like a traditional, or  modern, family background, food preferences,  religious views. One guy even said "   Self-proclamation is difficult thing for me. Honesty, modesty and passion describe me."  Another actually described himself as "charming. ".  Some magnanimously say, they couldn't care about the girl's having or not having a job, but almost always specify a salary

And then there is what I call euphemistic terminology. "Sales professional"  for salesman in a shop, health care professional  for front office worker in a doctor's office or pharmacist's assistant, and the best is the use of the word "HR professional". I mean you are human and a resource, what more classification do you want ?  Covers everything from an officer to administrative assistant, secretary, Man Friday etc . Another one is "Banking Services".

Sometimes one wonders if the system actually groans under so much specification.     
 Of course, a horoscope is ALWAYS asked, although, some do mention that they will be taking only a "cursory" look at it and not look for "exact" matches. I guess that allows exit loopholes.   Whatever that means.

I wonder what else will happen in the future.  Will they conduct "recruitments "?  Will a bunch of girls attend a group discussion ?  Will they have levels of selection and shortlists ?   Why not contracts with terms and conditions ?

The irony lies in the meaning of "ON LINE".

In the older days, with much less information about each other, people got married, had kids, lived with elders, moved on their own, fought,laughed , cried and in general,  life was lived in an on-line mode, facing up to new discoveries about each other, and learning to handle them in real time, sometimes, with a few mental injuries and hurts, but lessons learned.

Today, with such a flood of information , and this weird insistence of educational degrees having to do something with it all,  time and again, people find, that they are ill equipped to deal with situations post marriage, because of faulty system specifications, and outlandish expectations.

There exists no algorithm for spousal selection. Definitely not in a discretized world, where 1 + 1 is always 2 and many are not able to handle any other result. 

Early on, 1 + 1 could always be 2, 0r 3 or even 4., and whatever the result , it was valid and manageable.

Between Kande-Pohe systems and  relational database query systems, there has to be a middle path.  

Some find it at work, some in college, some amidst their hobbies they share.  But it is important that it is found for society at large , regardless of the strata to which one belongs.



Friday, December 07, 2012

L' Oreal, Paris ! An idea from Ugich, Mumbai!

Today's youth has really evolved.  Naturally, the base is defined by when I was in my youth about 40 years ago.

And this isn't all about the advent of computers, the e-fication of lives, and how little babies are now seen playing with I-pads in their strollers, like we played with plastic rattles, and cloth dolls at that age.

It is about adornment of the individual and the endless public discussions.

Beauty parlours were looked at in my time, as places someone else went to.  That too, possibly for a haircut, or when you were the type that attended New Years Balls.  You did not comment on your mother's greying hair, or how it was thinning. Her facial skin was not yours to comment on. And moisturising of the homely type always happened, for everyone,  via things like Kokum oil etc, when winter set in.

Many decades later, folks my age got conversant with eyebrow threading, blow drying of hair, facials , manicures, and pedicures, without getting habituated.  Though today, people make it a regular thing, in an effort to look , say, permanently 20, with , as they say,  20 years of experience....

While one normally goes now for haircuts , and eyebrows  when things tend to resemble unruly jungles, I still get mortified at the thought of sitting with the feet in a tub of water, with assorted folks rubbing,brushing,cleaning, and bathing your feet in a pedicure, and so have never gone for one.

But thanks to LDI (Local Direct Investment) and FDI in beauty, today, the daughter keeps seeing huge grey strands in my hair where I do not, and keeps talking about open pores, closed pores, moisturizing, creams and stuff. Split-ends cause mental agony,  hair needs to be shining and straight, and she breathes a silent sigh when I finally decide to go visit a parlour for a haircut.

Today, hair can have different colors and even a mixture of colors, just like lips and nails.  There are folks my age , who do regular parlour visits every month, and are greatly admired  They get their hair re-colored at the slightest change in shade to grey. They stare at themselves in mirrors, and fearlessly notice sags and droops, and rush in for monthly facials.  Strangely, the ages of people who do this keep getting younger and younger .

I applaud them, for their attention to detail. 

Because, I always end up looking at the forest and miss out on the trees.

 But some experiences on the rare times that you visit a parlour have given me a wonderful idea for a commercial ad. 

I wonder whether Aishwarya (Rai, that is)  will do it ....

I had recently gone for a haircut and eyebrows to my neighborhood place, which had renovated and got some newer young employees.The owner is a friend and always does the haircut herself. Then I moved to another station and another person, for the eyebrows.

Leaning back on the head rest, she raises my eyebrow and says, "hold here".  Closes my eyelid, pulls it downward, and places my other hand there , saying, "Hold it tight here" ......

Nothing happens. Then she shifts my hands a bit, so the skin stretches. Once upwards. Another hand, stretches it downward.  I feel the thread doing its thing. Then she stops,

A moment later, another young girl, appears. My eyebrows and eyes, are now stretched by my own fingers as well as hers . The thread begins doing its stuff. At one point, while repositioning the thread and brushing the eyebrows clean, the younger girl, mentions to the other one, "Aiyyo! Kitna Loose Skin .... kitna odhnaa padta hai ! (~ what loose really need to stretch it so much!)".......!

By and by ,  after much stretching , they complete the job, things look a bit organized, but it has given me an idea for a commercial, about anti aging.

 It is sure to beat all those commercials about 7 signs of aging, mothers looking like daughter's sisters, and Saif Ali Khan acting disbelieving when someone doesn't look like a mother, but is !

Scene 1 , screen window one shows someone like me (or even me) , getting my eyebrows threaded.

Then in a adjoining window, Screen 2,  you show some one like Kajol,Aishwarya Rai, or Katrina, sitting in a chair, being asked to hold their eyebrows with the fingers.

Beauties with wonderfully firm skin (using XYZ cream, that they are), they simply raise their eyebrows themselves, without hands, with their facial muscles, in a very filmy questioning style,  the eyebrows stay up, and get nicely threaded.

Hurrah !

 I wonder if L'Oreal, Ponds, and Lakme will be interested.

Will be a great change from those fairness creme ads, don't you think ?  

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Life is....

.....actually a game !

Sometimes, it is cards.  You are dealt some cards, and you must do your best, depending on what rules are specified to you. Sometimes it is all about being rich, sometimes, about pretending to be so despite having a poor hand.  So often, we get fooled into connecting it with money, based on the 1/52 probability of something unique happening.  And if poker is all that you know,  you must put something in, to get something out.

Sometimes, it is langdi.  You are out on a single limb, trying to change the situation.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes, you keep on hopping, falling, getting up, stretching, only to find yourself inches away from your goal, and unable to reach it.

Sometimes it is a game of Hide and Seek .  You permanently seek things. Like knowledge, money, power, a house, a spouse, food and so on. Some of these elude you and go into hiding, and some appear momentarily to give you false hopes.  The problem is, you are always, the Den.

Sometimes, it is like tennis. Depends on whether you are a ball or a racquet.  So many are mostly balls. Whacked  relentlessly by forehands and backhands, as they fly around doing someone else's bidding in life. Sometimes they are even smashed. At times, they are fooled into thinking the racquets have a soft touch , when suddenly faced with close mesh barriers. But they are wrong. Sometimes these racquets fly off the handle, when the hitters  celebrate their actions. And so many hangers-on simply blindly applaud.

If you are the delicate brilliant  type, your life is like a game of badminton. You may be delicate, fair and light as a feather, but life is all about sharp and quick smashes, caressing tosses, sometimes, as you shuttle across, it's a drop across a wired precipice, as the watchers just senselessly applaud. Of course, you often get thrown aside in favour of someone else more beautifully fit and fair, but then that's life.

Of course, sometimes, you end up being the racquet, in both tennis and badminton. And you are never allowed to forget , that you are still under some one's two-fisted control, in crunch situations.  What you think is a celebration, may actually have you thrown out into the world, and replaced. Either way, a tennis/badminton  life is so misleading. It makes you think you can fly, when actually , you are hurtling .

And so what if you are a game of basketball ? As you quietly mind your own business , they crowd around, and pump you up, walk around holding you by their side, and just when you start feeling good, you find out that it is all about improving their own score in life by making you run and fall through rings. A lot of surreptitious pushing, pulling, and others getting in their way. Sometimes even shameful whistles by some kind of boss types.

In some countries, life is actually a game of cricket. 22 folks in your environment, and you could be a ball or bat.  Being a bat is slightly better,  because you get well taken care of.  You have excellent covered homes, they worry about your complexion and provide excellent  moisturizations and linseed facials. Many times you carry the name of who you belong to, though at times, like Draupadi, you may carry names of more than one.  This happens when money obsessed Kaurav types, hold auctions.   It's not so bad being a bat.

But being a ball is bad.  First of all ,unlike bats which have a relatively monogamous life, you are badly handled by many.  Some spit on you, some ensure the extra oil in their hair is slathered on you, and some fearlessly rub you wrong. Some think they are being clever and clean and shine only half your face. And to hell with your looks.  You are whipped, cut, swept, flicked and the whole world and its friend explodes when you fall into some one's grubby hands. Some of these grubby hands even cause you planned injuries by scratching, and periodically, after they have messed you up enough, they shamelessly replace you with some one else.  The worst part is, all your travails are broadcast to the world.  Your life's ambition is supposed to be reaching some 3 pointy sticks and knocking their heads off, and  then too, once is never enough.

Of course if your life is a football life, you only have your previous karma to blame.  It is never nice being constantly kicked and head butted. But you have to look on the good side. Thankfully in our country, life is not about heavily packaged helmeted fellows crushing you as they fall on top of each other , as they do in the US.

Some people have, what might be called an elite genteel golfy life. It is all about travelling across hills, gardens, lake sides, and parks, at a civilized pace. Great attention is paid to you, and although the thwack on the back really hurts, sometimes you get to fly across water bodies, roll down hills, and the whole world watches, as you do your indecisive dance near a hole in the ground.  But you get to stand your ground, till someone walks up to you and helps you go in. It is more or less a monastic life, as you travel in special bags amidst the rich and famous and mostly those coming up in the world.

The most interesting time is  when your life is like a game of chess.  You could be just about anything; a king, queen, camel(bishop), horse (knight), elephant (rook), or the ordinary pawn, Depending on that , life will take you on various paths. Some straight, some crooked.  Your alter ego always shows up in an opposite color in front of you.

Unlike plays and movies, where they show alter egos discussing moves with your real self , the alter ego here simply plots to kill and defeat you.   And so, unlike  many other physically overpowering games, this one is about outwitting someone troubling you, not by bashing them up personally, but by cleverly using the capabilities of your subjects. The queen, king, elephants(rooks), horses(knights),  camels(bishops), even the lowly pawns,  all work at it, supporting each other, and some do get sacrificed.  Some survive and some don't, and it is not for the want of trying.  Sometimes people call this democracy, and sometimes people call this parliament.

And yes, this seems to be the only game where the woman, the Queen , is the real power.


That is life !

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Highstander Effect

One of my blogger friends recently did a post on something that happened in her city and mentioned what is called the Bystander Effect

Away from all the psychological sociological nomenclature that defines this inability of bystanders to intervene in an emergency situation,  I sometimes feel that we , in the big cities like Mumbai , are Champion Bystanders. 

Of course, our attitudes are often colored by what we have been subject to in our growing up years.  In a society that is becoming increasingly nuclear and imbibing all properties of "I" as opposed to "we" , it is instructive to see how we change.

When I was a child, we lived in what was then the outskirts of Pune, in an area  through which many daily wage earners of the city passed , on their way home to the villages outside Pune. Prohibition existed then, and it was not unusual to hear and see warring couples heading home to their villages,  the man usually drunk, the woman berating him for throwing money, denying their kids a meal, and the drunk fellow shouting and beating his wife as they walked home. I would rush to watch from the balcony, and was once surprised to see my mother outside, shouting at the man to behave, and  protecting the angry lady who took refuge behind her. Seeing my mother telling off the guy, some folks on the road also joined in, restrained the drunk guy, threatened to call the police, and so on. The fellow was subdued,  and they went home after some time, the woman guiding the drunk guy.

Times change.  People actually don't.

Almost 25 years later , I was living along a lakefront in a wooded area. There was a narrow road that skirted the lake and passed in front of our building. It was not unknown for the household working maids to collect twigs,branches etc for firewood on their way home, since kerosene was not easily available, and in short supply.  Home for lunch from work, and we suddenly heard threatening voices. Since we were on the ground floor, we saw a security man talk to a young girl with firewood , shouting and threatening her as firewood collection was not allowed.  Then he raised his hand , and slapped her.  He was immediately shouted at from our house, and asked to refrain from this or face an official complaint to his superiors. In the quiet of the afternoon, he had thought no one had observed.  But someone had. And acted. And the fellow was intimidated by all this.  The woman felt someone looked out for her. We didn't know either of them but sometimes things work out ...

 This ability to rush and act sometimes is the fastest lesson in trauma psychology you can get.

We lived then , more than 30 years ago ,amidst many other couples in a hostel for staff, and one of my friends  accidentally had the stove fall on her as she made tea after coming home from work. By the time I reached, she was in the outside corridor burnt,  and in huge pain , crying out , and I saw this huge semicircle of ladies (and kids) with expressions of shock and horror, simply standing and looking at her. Some of us ran to comfort her, try and help with the stuck fabrics and apply something to her skin, and maybe even just hold her hand; she  could see still, and I was aghast that so many just stood around and she saw their faces reflecting what had happened to her and how bad. We accompanied her to the hospital , but sadly she did not live.

Sometimes, one ends up being the person who is stared at. While folks stand around.

In my more active days, I was once running errands in the monsoon and was on a two wheeler going to the next suburb to collect a pathological report for my father-in-law.  I got late collecting some garam masala(2 kg) which I had to collect from a place that pounded it for you. And possibly, I  didn't see the road surface well. Because all of a sudden, the two wheeler skidded, the wheel simply whirred in the air, i was thrown up and fell down, cracking a tooth, cutting the lip and some places near the eye. First, people ran. Then they stood around and stared at me, since I must have been a vision in a saree, in all that blood on my face, sitting on the ground, holding my head, and still inexplicably pointing to the masala box , which was unaffected. A couple of rickshaws stopped, thought their seat covers didn't need any blood dripping there and quickly accelerated away. Lots of mumbling and staring but no one offered a solution. Some traffic got held up.  Finally a cab came , and asked where i stayed. Maybe the guy had a daughter back home, my age.  That guy drove me home and then to our hospital.   But yes, that feeling of helplessness has to be experienced.        

Today, one still tries not to be a bystander when one sees something bad happening to someone.

The road crossing outside our gate is a very difficult one. Too many degrees of freedom for wheeled traffic and very little time and concern for bipeds. We were waiting to cross, waiting for the traffic light to change, when a motorcycle in a hurry zoomed past, throwing an old lady carrying vegetables, off balance, and she fell. The driver was forced to stop, and after helping the lady up, and seeing that she was OK, I went up to the guy to ask what was the big hurry, didn't he see the traffic light and did he not care for those he hurt with such careless driving.

I was almost on the point of waiving to a traffic cop and calling him, when this guy slowly removes his helmet, shakes his head, puts his helmet on again, starts his bike and says ," Yeh raasta  kya aapke  baap ka hai ? (~ Does this road belong to your father?)  ..." !

(I've often answered in the affirmative and mentioned paying of taxes, but this guy zoomed off)

I wonder what the social psychologists have to say about this.

The Highstander Effect ?

Thursday, November 22, 2012

At whose cost ......

I first became aware of dicey use of public/taxpayers' money in the early 70's.

We lived in a colony of two multi storeyed buildings, constructed for government employees, meant for those who were in the IAS, IPS and Judiciary(as Judges), with a bunch of ministers thrown in , who resided in the two topmost flats in each building. While there was nothing surprising in the retinue of cars, staff, beacon lights, and security staff for ministers, what would amaze me totally, was that folks in the police service were just a notch below as far as such facilities were concerned.  Chauffeur driven official cars (with official petrol) , one police constable sitting in front , one standing outside the house to run errands for the lady of the house, children being driven to school et al.

This was amidst judicial types who even took the bus sometimes, or car pooled every week.  Or some like my father who drove his own ambassador to work every day, paid for his own petrol.  My mother ran her own errands, bought her own vegetables, was often plagued with getting good household help.  And  given a choice between helping in the kitchen and washing the car, I always chose the latter, once prompting alarming phone calls from some of my mothers acquaintances in the next building, because girls of marriageable age didn't have to be seen washing cars in the garage and feeling good about it .  On the odd occasion that my work timings coincided with my fathers, I got off where he did, and walked rest of the way.  I don't ever remember being "driven" to work/college etc.

Sometime later , I noticed that every time a government worthy was accused of wrongdoing, and an investigation initiated, he would complain about chest pain and get admitted to a government hospital ICU.  He would be there for days and days, occupying , at government cost , a bed that could have been used to help a really sick individual, who would even pay for it.  Chest pain was a smart choice of malady. It could be due to anything, and it was your word against the doctor's.  MRI's were not yet there, ECG's happened, but chest pain was chest pain, rest was advised, and crooks lived in ICU's at government cost, with all kinds of security personnel guarding them , instead of society being saved from such folks.

With some modification this still continues.

 Now with the addition of several categories of security due to what is called threat perception.   At one time there were 34 constables, several police jeeps,  a few police inspectors  and so on assigned to the security of one individual in Mumbai. It went without saying that his/her  family members  also moved around with security . I mean , could anything be bigger than attending a kitty party with security, or kids attending school with assigned security ?   Every time these folks moved around, a cavalcade of 7-8 cars, sirens, beacons would accompany them. To this day , this kind of security remains a status symbol. We must be the only country where actors, MP's move around with visible security provided by the state. 

So I am not surprised to see that everyone now cribs about the crores spent on the security of the lone captured terrorist of 26/11 , late Ajmal Kasab, the specially built court premises in the jail, the security of the judge, the prosecutor and so on. Today's Indian Express shows Rs 41.81 crores (see this link)  as the total cost of looking after Ajmal Kasab, the biggest expense being the special security, and built infrastructure and fees of  specially appointed officers. Clothes, food and medicines are a very minor second.

But then some folks get ideas from this kind of stuff.

Six years ago, I had a substitute household help called Changuna for a few weeks, who lived in the same neighbourhood as my normal household help S.  This is a locality where, there are very few houses with a male head of household, simply because some are dead after a life of alcoholic excess, and some have abandoned their wives and disappeared.

Few women like S, are lucky to have a united household, where the children have gone to school and are now gainfully employed.  Changuna had 2 sons, One was a trained tailor, married with 2 kids, and a wisp of a wife who he beat in regular alcoholic stupors . He hardly worked. The other son, started off as a local goon, got arrested, sent to jail, and Changunabai would go one afternoon a week and see him along with some lawyer type.  She was finding it difficult to make ends meet with such sons and just her household work earnings in several houses.

One fine day the older fellow was released from jail, and came home.  He started throwing his weight around, and causing trouble. Did not work, and became demanding and drunk.  The resident son couldn't help  in any way, and it was just the women and children of the house versus these two fellows.

Finally, Changuna went to the police. Complained about the elder son who had been to prison.  He was arrested, and sent to jail again. I don't know under what crime .

Changuna came the next day for work, and told me about this latest arrest. She didn't seem to be upset; but rather relieved about it.

"He does no work, picks fights; one son doing nothing, I can manage. Both of them are good-for-nothing chaps.  So many mouths to feed, and so much money demanded for drinking . The children have to go to school, and they see all this.  I thought this guy was better off in jail. His meals and housing is taken care off.  I don't have to worry, or scrounge more more money.  Who knows what scrapes he will get into here, and I will have to rush and handle things. Tell me, how many earning and how many eating ? "

I had no answers.

No z+ security, no chest pain, no ICU, no nothing; but she had learned, from the biggies, how to make the government take care of you, for free.....  

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FDI in Minds

At the cost of being ridiculed, laughed at, or whatever, I must announce that I have come to the conclusion that beauty, per se, is  a state of mind.

 What changes  through the ages, is a society that slowly becomes gutless in the face of what passes for globalization, and what I call FDI (Foreign Direct Interference)  in an individual.

For various reasons, in the sort of society in which I grew up, people were not obsessed with the confirming to some declared beauty standards.  There was a lot of emphasis on clean skin, using natural ingredients during bath times. No-nonsense oiling of hair, traumatic removing of knots, and two tight plaits turned up and tied with bows behind your ears, was the norm.  Hair was left open, only when you washed it and went about in the Sun so that it dried. Girls who went around flipping back unruly hair from their foreheads and eyes, and looking up at people from under bangs,  were frowned upon. There was no fashion  as such in clothes, because of a lot of what we wore was either school uniforms, sports requirements , casual home wear like skirts/blouses, and traditional wear like ghagras and stuff.  You never really aspired to look like an actress in films, with the possible exception of the actress Sadhana . Insecure types, were inspired to cut their hair in fringes on their forehead after huge disagreements at home.

My mother had a box full of a mixture of ambehaldi, and various ayurvedic powders which were mixed with besan and milk, sometimes fresh cream skimmed off the top of the boiled and cooled milk, and this paste was used instead of soap during bath. You never locked yourself in bathrooms doing surreptitious beauty treatments, because there was one bathroom and folks were waiting to have baths and go to work, schools etc. 

Sometime , approaching our twenties , eyebrows threading got approved,as a worthwhile effort of improving upon a tangled original. Though I still have friends who revel in intersecting eyebrows and are doing quite well , thank you .  It was about being yourself, revelling in your own confidence,  loving your own hair, nose, or whatever, and realizing there was so much more to life.

For some reason, time spent in beautifying/maintaining oneself  was not an obsessive amount, and being a beautician was not a choice profession. Although many folks then treated it like being an air hostess,  where they ignored the glamour and always thought it was about rushing with bags to folks who threw up in aeroplanes.

Cut to today, with commercial television reminding you about your fading beauty, whitening hair, dark complexion, and underweight constitution, not to mention teeth with cavities and yellow tinges.  Your hair has to be strong enough to pull a truck from a pothole, and smooth enough to give a slip to a kabaddi player trying to stop you by pulling your hair.  While the ability of the Sun to warm and tan you has not changed in decades, today you are stupid if you step out without slathering on sunscreen lotions.    

Combs gave way to brushes, brushes bow before curling and straightening irons,  and instead of curling up with a great book after work, or say, doing some minor fixing of a dress or putting a "fall" on a saree , the young ones now sit plugged in, with hair caught between two flat plates, constantly moving them, all this in the interests of straight hair.  The same young girls throng beauty parlours to get facials and bleaches, pedicures and manicures, and wear black nail polish a la Dracula , simply because someone famous in some magazine does that, Everyone aspires to flat straight hair,  skinny jeans, short tops, occasionally jackets and heeled footwear that traumatise your quadriceps, and make the leaning tower of Pisa jealous.

While our traditional textiles, get rarer and more expensive for common citizenry due to diminishing support, their art is exploited by the fashion designers, who barring a few, have completely bizarre, over priced exposure oriented design sensibilities, more suitable for the overseas market.     

For someone who grew up  believing that hard work and a sincere attitude blessed you with a job,  the already stunned eyes have opened wider on learning that applying Fair and Lovely for seven days, has the employer pleading with you to return back on the job. It has also been a revelation to learn that choosing black as your choice in a game of chess, is a guaranteed way to lose, thanks to some white beauty face wash, and to hell with watching and listening to Vishwanathan Anand.

So many multinationals, stuffing commercial time on television in India, with ads that might have been banned abroad , like whitening creams that have been banned in the US due to harmful ingredients.  So many multinationals that probably think they can advertise what they want how they want, given that liquor is advertised as cassettes and CD's, hard liquor is advertised by a winking man as Soda, energy foods supposedly make you grow twice as fast according to some vague fictitious lab, and there is no one that tries to stop this, obsessed as they are with discussing if folks in films should be shown smoking. 

If you don't believe this have a look at    Ministry of Information and Broadcasting   Content Regulation on Private TV Channels    Click on the first 5 links that pertain to advisories for advertising on private channels , warnings to those found in violation etc, and you will see that the URL does not exist.   

It is intriguing that this emphasis on physical appearance and falling in line with some vague pre set norms  , all followed in excess , has also resulted in a lot of insecurities in young people.  So many parents are ignorant of what their child is up to, because things are done secretively.  There are stresses when individuals and stories do not follow predictable paths like in commercials . You have young distracted people, giving up , and some uncontrollable types , being violent, as parents both work, to provide for the expenses demanded by the new lifestyles, sometimes  with undesirable results in their absences.

Is this the new world, where someone else tells us what beauty is ?  Is this the new world where people are tunneled on to a path with stars in their eyes, misguided money in their pockets, and insecurity in their minds?   Were we stupid in our time, because we never stamped our foot down and demanded something like our own personal hairdryer , when an old one was shared by the kids already?  Was it the height of stupidity and ignorance that we continued to live with that little black spot  and slightly non symmetric nose, and refused to get plastic surgery done ?  What is it that makes insecure women hanker after HRT  despite reports doubting its benefits ?  And is it the height of madness to insist on letting your hair grow a magnificent gray as opposed to a shining dyed darkest brown ?

Has this age of commercials, television, and globalization, actually done a plastic surgery of our minds ?   

Monday, November 12, 2012

Divali learnings.....

We live in a huge colony belonging to our employer, where premises are provided to most employees for the duration of their service.  Naturally, there are several gates, and the associated security.   Regardless of the high tech level of work, or sophisticated research conducted,  residential families, means household help coming to work daily from outside, and so there is a system of entry passes, that are periodically renewed.

My household help "S" ,  also has one, and every so many months, she asks for a letter from me, which confirms that she works at my house. The security folks then renew her pass, and she often shows it to me to find out the next date when she must repeat the procedure.  I have been noticing that there is a blank where it says "signature of pass holder".

She and her entire family were supposed to make a trip to her native place in the first week of November, and she had told me in advance that she would be away for twelve days. As is customary, I gave her an extra months salary for Divali with her October remuneration thinking it would find use on this trip, bid her a good trip, and mentally geared myself up to being run of my feet in the ensuing days.  A viral bout which sapped energy didn't help. But this kind of stuff has happened before and one has learned to manage.

A couple of days later, I get a call and it's "S".  She calls to say that she herself fell sick the evening before the trip,  and the family had now gone ahead and she had not. She was feeling better now and would be coming after all . From the next day !

To me, this was like Divali. 

You see , she need not have called. She was to be away for 12 days,  it would not be affecting her monthly remuneration, , and I would never know whether she was away or at home. She could have had a much needed rest without the usual family chores.
To her that was simply not an option.  She called. And came the next day. 

She came in carrying her entry pass which needed to be renewed, and as usual took my letter and signature to the security office. Came back and showed me the pass.

This time there was something else. In the place where it said "Employees signature", there was this shaky looking set of letters in marathi, spelling out her full name. 

I was absolutely amazed.

"S", who never went to school,  and slogged  all her life , singly, to ensure her children completed XIIth, and her grandchildren went to school, had finally learned to sign her own name ! 

I know it must not have been easy.  To concentrate and practice in a one room house with 4 small extremely playful grand kids, and 3 married sons so very busy with their jobs and lives, with "S" herself working houses and managing her own house.  

She is excited. She will no longer give thumbprints in the bank, when she goes to check her savings and withdraw.  She wanted to know how to tell the bank that now onwards she will sign !   A visit to the bank is planned.

In the meanwhile,  some Divali goodies are being put together at my place, as Guru Dakshina, to the little Gurus in class 2 and 3, who insisted that their grandma learn to write her own name, and actually inspired her.

May this Divali be as exciting for everyone as it was for "S" with her new learning !

Happy Divali !

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Review of "The Bankster" by Ravi Subramanian....

I received this book from Blogadda under their Book Reviews Program.

Published by Rupa , and 358 pages in length, it was an unexpected delight to get an author autographed copy of Bankster.  The cover calls the author, Ravi Subramanian, the John Grisham of banking.

As a person who actually had a bank account at 10 tears of age, when withdrawing Rs 10 was considered excessive, I have always been skeptical of the banking industry ever since  some parts of it decided to become posh. 50 years of banking has taught me, that we remember best those who give excellent service as a bank, everything else be damned.  This is the story of a bank, the Greater Boston Global Bank (GB2), and the functioning and work ethos therein.

It is linked  in some way, with blood diamonds in Angola, an NGO  involved in a nuclear protest in Kerala, unscrupulous politicians (sigh),  puzzling killing of bank employees in places as diverse as  the Eastern Express Highway in Mumbai the old Vashi Thane Creek Bridge in Mumbai, and a street in Vienna, Austria.

A simple switch of an account by a client from another bank to GB2,  so many bending over backwards to service the account  given the large balances, rewards for those who fall in line. A lovely depiction of the sort pf personalities one often encounters in a bank,  old style, staid, sticklers for rules, easily swayable types, folks who have no qualms  about committing crimes, be they commercial or moral, folks who hanker after the good life at all costs.  The story also indicates the vigilance section in banks, and how their work is conducted.

The Kerala  NGO agitation against the nuclear power plant, the tenuous links with dyed-in-the-evil-wool politicians playing double games, international compulsions, all these actually depict what is happening today.

Personalities and episodes described in Vienna  remind you a bit about an  Hercule Poirotean  ethos, and the general efficiency and pride taken in such work there.

The author has described his characters very well.  I have almost met all such types in my more than 50 years of tangling with banks.

I have met the dedicated Raymond, the sincere organized Harshita,  the page 3 style Zinaida ,  the I-have-all-the-answers-nothing-is-impossible Tanuja,  the super efficient Jacqueline,  the lady Chairperson Indrani, who is where she is because she has a fine understanding of who must investigate what, and the silent minority that simply gets on with the work, thinking everything their superiors are doing is ethically correct.

I've heard of sincere rural folk like Krishna, politicians and their relatives  who give NGO's a bad name, tentacles spread across the country dipping into various tills. 

The author weaves it all in, as if it all belongs.  He even throws in IT technology.  Buying of arms from countries, and despotic African rulers controlling diamond mines, and buying arms.

You nod your head in satisfaction, or shake your head in disapproval, smirk mentally to say "I told you so" , and  delight yourself to bits,  as the story emerges, every now and then, accelerating  on a fast expressway, after taking a few diversions.

The conclusion is stunning.    And deftly introduced.

You would have never imagined, that,  that could be the case 

The story is very tightly woven,  no rambling, or suddenly going into history.  The suspense is maintained just enough, for you to rub that sleep out of your eyes, and continue with the remaining pages.     

This is a wonderful book and I would give it a rating of 4/5. Go read it .  

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

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Introducing , "T." .......

A post inspired after reading this ....

My household help "S.", (who I have extensively blogged about for the last few years), is kind of getting on in years, and it was decided to find someone else to do some of her more strenuous duties like sweeping etc. She herself suggested someone, who we shall call "T.".

T., unlike S. comes from the coastal Konkan area of Maharashtra. She was married off to a guy, a widower,  from the village, working in Mumbai. This guy's first  wife had  given birth to a child, and died in childbirth, leaving behind, , in addition to the new born, an older girl of 7-8 years.  They came to Mumbai, and within a year there was another kid, her own. The difference between the son's ages  was less than a year and she  cared for the daughter and two sons  as if they were her own.  The husband, as it usually happens, habitually drank, and one fine day ,  he succumbed, and she was left with 3 kids to look after.

A brother living elsewhere in Mumbai, helped her find a place in what is now a huge slum on the hills. She consults this brother on all important events in her family. She started doing housework in our area, and has been going to the same households for several years, because her honesty, and work ethic is greatly valued.

She has looked after the children , got the daughter married to someone who earns a living driving a rickshaw, and her two sons stay with her.  Drinking water is a huge problem , and she often has to queue up at 3 am and 4 am  at the community tap. There are goonda elements, queue crashers, trouble makers,  but she has learnt to manage despite them with her no nonsense attitude. The two sons did not know for years together that they had different mothers.  I came to know all this when she needed some help with the junior college fees for the boys.

She obviously has some good folks advising her. The boys did an ITI technical training course during the day, and attended night school to complete their class X.  This year the appeared for their XII exams, again, while continuing their ITI course. They help their mother fill water early mornings,  , then leave , and return back almost at 11 pm  . There are work assignments and studies to be done.

She says one of the reasons this is good , is that the company of boys in her area is terrible, most being vagabond, jobless, druggy types, aspiring to be dadas, and she sees many young folks whiling away time with such types. Her sons are away  almost 16 hours of the day.

Once a year, she travels to her late husband's native place, where the old home still stands, over which she is aware she and her sons have a right since it is ancestral. Does the necessary maintenance stuff, whatever repairs and so on, fully aware , that there are folks within the family, who think she has no share and may simply create trouble for her.

The boys both appeared for class XII boards, one cleared it all, and the other must clear one subject yet. The older fellow now has a job in a factory, and the younger one, in his own way, tries to support the family, amidst school/training/studies etc, with a job at a place where he wraps chocolates and gets paid by the kilo.

By pure coincidence, I heard about all this from  T. , during a week when I also came across a post , on my friend's blog,  that was all about a lady, who had everything life could give her;  a wonderful childhood full of opportunities, a degree in the US, marriage to someone in the US , an Indian, as qualified as her, and a child.

The lady in question,  was writing to vent her worries about having to return to India and the likelihood of having to stay  with the in laws, or they staying with her, and how she was absolutely against it. The issue was independence, and her husband's inability to stand up to his parents.  There appeared to be no earning-a-living issues. But there appeared to be many issues having to do with  adjusting to a "people"/in law  environment back in India, strangely, after having grown up earlier in a standard family  environment in India.

And then I wondered about the problem solving abilities of both T and this lady. 

About who was happier. Who was more stressed.    Who was more capable of facing up to challenges. Who could look a problem in the face, prioritize , and decide, even if it was in the short term .  Who had a huge amount of resources to tap, and who had almost nothing to tap.

Also, how formal education, had actually managed to slot attitudes into compartments. "This" was progress, "this" was an interference, "that" was guaranteed to stagnate your career because you put it on the back burner,  "something else" was a direct attack on your way of thinking.

Progress  has to be of several kinds.  It is never the type that can be graphed as an oblique line, rising away from the origin, way up into infinity, at an angle of 45 degrees to the horizontal.

The best kind of progress , is often  a bunch of points on a graph , scattered  around a general pattern, which emerges after there are sufficient points.  There are some points that play truant and even go out of range.  Some fall acceptably close to the emerging style.   

Management types will call this a trend.  

It is actually "learning from experience".

 To me, T had generated a wealth of such experience points, some close to each other, some far away.  Her uneducated, but observant mind absorbed, the trends, and learnt from them,  generating what I would call, a new "informed " point.

Both T and the lady in question above, have things that irk them.   T, with her limited resources, has often hosted relatives visiting Mumbai, and managed somehow with her meagre space and economic resources. Some of these folks have an eye on her ancestral small place back in the village, and she is aware of it. Tangling with them at this point, is not going to help.  She keeps such thoughts to herself, and concentrates on ensuring that the sons are well settled into some jobs.  T has learnt to prioritize, and she doesn't plan anything for, say, even 5 years down the line.

The lady in question on the blog, appears to be planning her entire life in one shot. How, where, when, and with whom.  Forcing the points on the graph .  She has reasons for publicly  verbalizing her problem, and she hopes to hear from folks who have been through similar stages of life, and she feels she will get some unbiased solutions this way.

I don't know who is right or wrong.

Ten years down the line, I cannot say who will be happier.  But somehow , it seems to make sense to have short term goals, work towards them, learn from them, and live life, rather than live rigidly with a unchangeable grand life philosophy......

But the contrast between the two,  here, was  too glaring. 

It's just that , sometimes, I feel, experience teaches a huge lot more about problem solving than any degree can.   

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Last Show

 It was an honor. The honor to be the sole caretaker of someone in their last days. In the family. Again and again .

 Sometimes these days stretched out over seasons, and sometimes, they hurried into hours, rushing somewhere,  like a single minded traveller hurriedly stepping to go home, in the evening gloom,  through rain,hail, and a blowing wind.

I have always wondered what goes on in a mind just prior to sensing a shutting down of physical systems in our bodies. 

She was someone very much involved mentally in her family. As many mothers are. You could be miles away beyond a sea and she could sense from an inflexion in your voice, and a certain word usage or tone, that you were troubled. She lost sleep worrying about you. She went to great lengths to ensure that you got the best even when she was away from you.  Your friends were her friends, and they enjoyed visiting her even in your absence.  So it went without saying that she also got upset easily at you and never hid it, as she struggled with it.  A natural manager , she might have been an excellent faculty somewhere, if she hadn't got caught up in family life. She wouldn't have had it any other way.

He was  what young folks today, define, as "chilled".  Not very interactive in family matters, he was interested in the course of his working life in a wide variety of people-useful projects.  Enjoyed quiet yoga, meditation, literary pursuits, and a possible lack of excessive professional ambition, which was great for his stress levels. Fairly impractical and unwilling to accept  it, he often left planning to folks at home and enjoyed the fruits , and no one grudged him that, because that was him. Often in a world of his own,  and a good teacher, he confounded  an entire set of doctors by doing the opposite of what they said, and recovering. He used to say its willpower, people called it luck.

 She passed away in what  felt like a wild tornado that suddenly struck her body.  Six years later, he passed away,  like a flower, slowly drying and withering away, petals slowly falling to the ground, and becoming one with the soil.

What was intriguing was  their momentary actions when the mind comprehended that perhaps the end was near.

Rescued from a sudden collapse, she recovered , all systems go, in the ICU, for a full day. Even in that one day, she worried about her daughter, why her son had rushed to her from the US, leaving his very young kids, and had he had lunch now that he was there . When her children sat quietly whispering , she bid them go home to their families.  Somewhere , around  midnight, she sensed  it was time. She looked at the children, steeled herself, and for someone, who barely had energy to lift her head, she amazingly managed to  turn on her side. Away from her children. Never answered when they called out to her. Kept talking to herself about consequences of a life lived the way she had, God's will, and was in her own world, till a sharp intake of breath ended it all. For someone who was so involved with family all her life, she had purposefully cut everyone off just prior to the moment of departure.

He, six years later,  was bedridden over several months, nursed by many dedicated folks.  He raged inwardly at his immobility and the mind imagined that he was visiting many places. He would talk about having walked two kilometres to visit someone. He would forget that he had had a meal and berate someone for being late with it. He forgot so many people, but realized that he couldn't recognize them as others thought he should, and so would playact, exclaiming in some standard phrases and smiles. He would occasionally talk about some very old acquaintances with his daughter, unaware or forgetting that they were no more. By and large he kept to himself.  Towards the end, he only recognized his caretaking folks including his daughter.

One unusual rainy night in November, he refused a serving of soup being fed to him, held his hand up .  He relaxed and  enjoyed a shuteye. Sometime later , he lifted his hand as if to search for someone. They heard him mouth somebody's name weakly, and signaled quietly to the daughter sitting nearby, who went to him, called out his name  and held his hand. He may not have heard.  His eyes, normally wide and hazel eyed (which she had inherited), were now slits , through which he could possibly see only a glimmer of light.  Unable to energize his eyelids,  he disengaged his hand from hers, then amazingly,  with unknown energy,  lifted it , grasping at her shoulders and neck till he reached her face. Touched her face, then held her chin between thumb and forefinger, as he would for a small child, and imperceptibly shook it. Lips moved a bit, and then all went  quiet as his hand slid down.        

What made the two be so uncharacteristic in the end ?  Did she not feel, at the end,  like being with those who she worried about so much and involved herself in throughout her life ? Did it hurt her to be so suddenly stoic in the end ?  For him, never as involved as she was, was it a sudden throwback to the days when his daughter was a very small child , and a remembrance of those days, as he struggled to see her before the end ?

Is there a mind separate from your brain that continues to consciously fully live  and reason even when things are shutting down ?  Do people hark back to the childhoods and old days, when they reach the end of their own days ?   What goes on in a mind, when realization finally dawns  that the end is near ?  Are we in error when we perceive people to be a particular way ?  Or does it have something do with with analytical minds and artistic minds ?

I don't know.  I think there is much more to be learnt.  Possibly, it will be very difficult to comprehend.
 George Washington University  researchers and doctors at Medical Faculty Associates recorded brain activity of people close to death. Turns out that, moments before death, the patients experienced a burst in brain wave activity, with the spikes occurring at the same time before death and at comparable intensity and duration.  Oxygen deprivation of brain neurons is said to force the neurons to all discharge together, creating a surge.  They say a  cutoff of oxygen would trigger a similar but recoverable event that becomes seared into memory.

It's very fashionable today to debate creation, and how the human design happened.  I find it difficult to believe that the human being as existing today, happened simply by chance , after some protein strings here and there evolved  by mistake in the correct manner.  There are too many smart checks and balances, decision making centres and processes happening in our bodies.

For those who think computers are the closest things, it would do well to remember that computer repair involves a shutdown and coldstart, and our amazing bodies mostly do it continuously online. Yes, restarts happen, sometimes, but for humans, a cold start is generally a cold shutdown.

 In the meanwhile, I must wildly and for a long time, applaud the Designer of this human system, whoever it maybe......   

Friday, October 26, 2012


You know. Things were different.

For one thing , before I was born , my folks went to the US to do graduate school in the very late 1940's, because the then Bombay government granted a scholarship. (And no , back then you didn't need an uncle in positions of power, just good academics.)  Which resulted in the acquisition (on return) then of a decent camera, and an 8 mm movie camera and what was then touted as a wire recorder.

Needless to say, we subsequently had several albums full of small prints showing us children in various stages of growth, posing in gardens (houses had them in those days), next to flowers, even pumpkin plants displaying our size relative to a super large pumpkin. I remember some kind of overexposed moving film showing me walking soon after becoming a biped, sometimes with a parent behind me, and a sibling kind of running across . Strangely these films had no sound. The wire recorder recorded such immortal things like lisping answers to questions, laughs and cries .  All these things were kept away in shelves and drawers to be displayed amidst visiting relatives and so on.

And the real photos that graced our walls were two large framed photos of my two late grandfathers, at an angle to the vertical, so that you always got the impression they were checking on you. Post her everyday morning puja, my mother would climb on a stool kept on a bed, and wipe the photographs clean, with her just washed and dried puja saree palloo; on special occasions there would be wonderful garlands for the grandpas, and we children  did our pranams to the photos at the onset of any wonderful venture, whether at school or home.

We had several sepia style photos with assorted serious types standing in gowns and holding scrolls, as well as some old photos with a senior citizen person sitting surrounded by folks in turbans/gandhi topis, and ladies in nine yards , holding kids . There was always some kid in a velvet embroiderd jacket sitting on a table top, and the table always had these curved legs. All these photos were hard mounted and covered with tissue paper and they remained in the cupboard recesses and never appeared on the wall.

Somewhere in college, folks started bringing cameras to picnics, wedding photography evolved, it became fashionable to click photos of folks being  felicitated for things, or standing next to eminent folks. People started displaying photos on walls , of themselves and family with folks of national eminence.   Families started travelling around the country, and photos in front of Tajmahal, various temples, waterfalls, native places and so on graced the various album pages , but yet , all in cupboards and drawers. 

By now, it was clear that you didn't have to die to have your photo on a wall. From an analogue version of a interconnected complete family, folks were moving places, setting up establishments and the digitisation, per se, of the family had begun.  Graduation pictures,  Wedding pictures and so on started gracing tabletops and walls.  Some grandparents proudly displayed photos of their grandkids in a frame next to the telephone on the table.  Very soon, wedding photography evolved and people specialised in maintaining entire albums .

Instamatic cameras , the precursors of the point-and-shoot cameras, soon flooded the market. Film cartridges happened.  When I went for grad school in the US in the early 70's, I returned with many photographs of various places I travelled to and visited, graduation,  my house, my friends and so on.  Even then , stuff remained in albums.  For example, a photograph of me drinking tea, was not sufficient  for a wall appearance and completely unacceptable.

A short period in which cameras got really complicated and the age of the digital camera dawned, parallel with the entry of the personal computer.  The absence of a physically loadable film was the biggest relief.

The digitisation of society was complete. People started carrying cameras in bags and purses. Folks graduating started carrying cameras themselves to convocations.  Cameras came and captured kids  barely a couple of hours old . Prices of hardware    
tumbled. Cameras started recording video.  Family events got captured in all their moving glory; tears could be seen falling, bangles tinkled, kids bawled, real applause got recorded with action and expressions.

Earlier it was about the message. Now it became about the medium.  Capturing something well became more important than what you captured.  Technology was making society adapt to it  rather that itself evolving for the society.

And then, inexplicably Facebook happened. You didn't need sepia photos in drawers, small black and white prints in thick albums, with photo corners.  Not only did people put photos of family events, complete with labels and comments, they also put photos of what they cooked for lunch, dinner, what they ate at someone's house, what they saw on some tree in their garden, what their dog ate. Also included were photos of some thing they made, constructed ,gifted or received,  sometimes even photos of their vehicles, all  washed and polished. The ordinary became special.

Sometimes something special became a bit less so, because of excessive appearance. 

Walls didn't exist solely in houses. Facebook itself had a wall, on which you put photos and people expressed their opinions.  If you didn't like something, you removed the photo. You even put up photos of others to tease someone.  You could control who could see whose photos. A single family had many individual walls. In more ways than one.

Not just the digitisation , but the discretization of a flowing old life was complete.

Today, along with photos of my late parents and late in laws on the wall, that look down at me as I sit typing away at this desktop,  I also have across the room , family photos of us with eminent folks we met, an unusual gathering of family several years ago. These conservative types mix seamlessly with photos of kids with milk moustaches , clicked as they finished up the hated glass of milk, photos of kids holding cricket bats, standing in half pants, dripping in the rain,  young cousins meeting after a long time, and the portrait of a young woman in a dressy saree in a permanent breathe-in posture  as she tries to manage a massive traditional  Maharashtrian nose ring  adorning her not so sharp nose.

The same young woman, lugs a DSLR everywhere, talks lenses, clicks insects  and bugs on walls and gardens, the insides of flowers, and outsides of monuments, jewellery, food, sunsets, sunrises, and flowing waters.

Sometimes we visit my old maternal house where the portraits of my late grandfathers still hang on a proper , now ancient wall.

And sometimes, just sometimes, I imagine a hint of a smile on their faces, as they see a young great grandchild, seriously fiddling with some settings, clicking and then with some alacrity uploading stuff , on what she thinks, is a wall of her own.