Friday, August 31, 2012

Shopping with a smile, Delivering in Style !

This goes back to the days, when on-line shopping per se, in India was just starting. One had heard of Amazon and Ebay, Google was not yet born and a verb, unlimited storage happened only in your dreams, and the concept of strange people calling you to offer credit cards, personal loans and so on had not taken root.

They say, stuff is conceptualized,  and realized , based on a perception of needs.

I was staying in another city, away from my parents, there was a significant landmark birthday coming up for my Mom, and since I wouldn't be able to travel  on the actual date (I would go later), I was looking around for someone /something  that could  make the day special for my mother.

I chanced upon a portal called ***  .  I have no clue if it exists now,  whether it has burgeoned into a mammoth set up, or whether it has been bought up by a conglomerate and so on.

These guys offered, for various prices, to deliver (in Pune) ,  a grand bouquet (you could choose the grandeur level), along with either a cake, or fresh fruits, or mithai, or dry fruits, to the person, at the address you specified, on a given date.  This was started as a need that was felt, in the lives of NRI children abroad, who wished to send gifts to their folks on special occasions, specifically in Pune.

I was just so many hundred kilometres away, very much in the country, and the prices in Rs did not throw me into a dead faint. 

Since as a rule, I assume everyone exaggerates, I called them up at their contact number , and spoke to someone, to get some stuff clarified . Having no credit card, I could pay on a local bank by cheque or by cash. Since the folks receiving the gift were senior citizens, and not unduly enthused about cakes, the folks at Flora Fountain offered to deliver Mango Barfi from Chitale Bandhu !  I entered all the details and addresses and contact numbers online, paid, got an acknowledgement by email in a few days. 

My folks were active in all kinds of social service organizations through the day, climbing the Parvati Hill was a daily ritual early morning , and I specified a time window in which the delivery should happen.

A cool April morning in Pune. The bell rang at my parent's house, and they found a fellow at the door, carrying a huge bouquet and a package. At first they thought he had come to the wrong place.  Then they thought  he was a friend of mine. He politely explained and asked to come in.

 Once in the living room, he presented the bouquet and the packet of Chitale Mango Barfi to my Mom, then bent down and touched their feet doing a namaskar , and explained from where the stuff had come !

My folks were terribly impressed, and this was followed by offering the fellow, a nice cup of tea, a sharing of breakfast, and a piece of the Mithai that they just received . Typical chitchat revealed that my mother knew an aunt-in-law of the guy, there was much nodding and smiling and the fellow left soon after.

I contacted these guys again years later when an aunt was celebrating her 75th birthday. Her kids had some religious stuff planned at a hall, and I again ordered for a big cake (many kids in the house on that day) and a bouquet, and specified that the stuff needed to reach around 7 am , since they would ll leave for the hall by 8 am.

These guys again delivered, again with the wishes and namaskars. My aunt was completely surprised, investigated who the guy was, and it turned out that he was at one time, in college with her youngest, my cousin, who was specially there now for the event, from her marital home.

There have been  scores of online shopping places that have come up subsequently.  They have specials and sales. Most specify a plethora of payment options. There are fine-print terms and conditions. Wish lists. Specials. Delivery details. Even reviews.

 Belonging as I do to a generation where buying anything  (except a house)  on installments, was considered unwarranted and unrequired, shopping was an occasional need, conducted with a lot of advice and care, and tons of bargaining, if you know what I mean.  There was always a big deal about getting value for money. Those were days, when being indulgent meant you went to great lengths to make things at home, so they were special.

 I am completely in awe of folks who say they are compulsive shoppers or shopping addicts.  On the Net.  I am suspicious of credit cards, debit cards and the  like,  and   when I rarely use  one, I walk around with a load on my mind till I pay the bill at the end of the month .  I'm even more wary of paying via cell phones.

Unlike,  eating,singing,painting, exercising, to me , shopping and/or spending  cannot be an addiction.  Like my blogger friend R's Mom would say, "Boss, it needs money !".....:-) 

But despite having dealt with many well known shopping portals, some of them very prompt , efficient, and polite,  this experience with Flora Fountain has always remained my most memorable online  shopping experience. 

While the online buying today, is like getting a paid-for prize and going up to the podium to receive it when it is announced , my original online buying experience was like getting a prize, coming home, and having someone pat you on your back .......

***  More than 20 years later I tried to search for them . They exist, but as an entry  on a larger portal here

This post is a part of the contest at in association with

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Melbourne on the Mind.....

My  first introduction to Australia, was when as a young girl , my friends and I used to pour over Lucy Walker books, which had young beautiful girls flying in to work  at a homestead in the Outback, say, as governesses to a motherless girl or an old lonely lady, and the place was always owned by the hero. A bit of growing up, and Nevil Shute took over.

In graduate school in California,  a colleague was from Australia, and  as folks who actually drove on the correct side of the road  (left)  compared to the US, we had a secret bond.

Then came the time my folks flew Mumbai to SanFrancisco, via Sydney, which was like flying Mumbai to Delhi via Sri Lanka. The fare was actually the best offered (compared to those who flew straighter), and they actually got a free stopover and saw the city.

Ever since then, I have had this great wish to visit  the country which celebrates Christmas in summer, cribs about cold in July, has amazing cricket and swimming teams, has towns called Woolongong , Alice Springs, Diapur (Victoria),Ozenkadnook, Mount Buggery, Poowong, Ugly Tom, Nar Nar Goon, and believe it or not, Mangalore.

Amazingly, there are also stately places named after stately British folks, like Lord Melbourne, and looks like , that would  be the place I would love to visit first.   

The Economist Intelligence Unit recently released the findings of the Global Livability Survey 2012, declaring Melbourne the most livable city for the second year in a row.   Not that I plan to live there , but who wouldn't like to visit and enjoy so many things the city would have on offer ?

- -  The Federation Square that is the cultural centre and houses the Melbourne Visitor Centre, Australian Centre for the Moving Image and National Gallery of Victoria's Ian Potter Centre. And the starting point for many trips and cruises....

--The University of Melbourne, the second oldest in the nation, and all built in sandstone in a good mesh of gothic revival and modern styles; a public University with the largest endowment in the country ! The Medical History Museum here would be of great interest ...with class photos of the earliest women medical students in 1887 !

- -The Queen Victoria Market, spread over 7 hectares, and having the largest collection of open air markets. Being earlier a meat market, an old 1868 mural here depicts a few lambs and cows ; though I have never figured out why you erect a statue before killing the animals....

-   The Yarra River at the Yarra Bend park. Melbourne being situated at the lower end of the river , as it flows down towards Hobsons Bay... Lovely parklands on its banks , giving you a country feel right in the middle of Melbourne, as you decide to indulge in cruise on the MV Melburnian in the Yarra .

--The imposing Victorian State Parliament building , which was supposed to have a huge 20 story dome, but they cancelled the idea, and now it is domeless. And the Exhibition Buildings , the last remnants of the major 19th century exhibition buildings in the world.

--I would love to do the Golden Mile heritage walk that would take me through the Royal Arcade and the Block Arcade, not to mention Melbourne's little shopping lanes...and would enjoy the year round fruits from the shops at the Queens Parade in Clifton Hill, along with the cafes.

--And how can we forget Cooks Cottage, the house owned by the parents of Captain Cook in England, sold to an Australian, and shipped piece by brick piece, along with the ivy plants , and reconstructed in Australia. The Cooks decreed that the house must stay in England, and some smart person got that amended to "Empire", and so it came Down Under.

--The Royal Botanic Gardens, The Luna Park , The Maritime Museum at South Wharf, and the Literature Lane  in the City, decorated with cover pages of some amazing Australian literary works.

-- Balloon trips high above Melbourne, taking in the CBD, the Yarra and the woodlands, floating above the Melbourne Cricket Ground , imagining visiting its Sports Museum, creating stories to bring home to 2 cricket crazy family members

There will be drives on Ocean highways, , operatic performances, musical programs, and celebrations in the city, but in any new place , what I look forward to , really , is the people.

Because, more than the Bricks and Mortar, the eats and the rides, it's the people who make a country and a city. 

Sometimes you meet interesting folks, sometimes you make new friends, and sometimes you simply look up amazing blog friends who have become friends with, without meeting, ever.

Like my blogfriend Lilly, who lives in Melbourne, and has an amazing connection to India, via her late Dad, who in his young days, came to the Royal House of Jaipur to manage their Horses and Riding. Naturally he also had a connection to cricket, having trained  for the Australian state teams, and when he was very old, and unable to see clearly, Lilly would read to him some fun stuff I wrote on cricket , which of course is like a religion in India. But he understood that. And I was the lucky person to receive best wishes from him. I would love to visit Lilly and pay my respects by garlanding his photograph.

Like my new friend Shruti, who with her family, has made  Melbourne  her home, and besides working in Education, she writes a wonderful culinary blog , with photographs that take her back to her childhood foods, and me to a poetic high with an Indian ethos.

Like my young friend who I worked with, who is now in Canberra, but am sure will meet when I am in Melbourne. What's a couple of air hours between the capital and Melbourne......

All of them , trying to convince me, saying " …it's your time to visit Melbourne NOW!"

Finally, not that it has any bearing on anything, but I have it from unimpeachable reliable sources, that Shane Warne  lives in Melbourne.

Just saying.


-This post submitted as an entry to the   "'s your time to visit Melbourne NOW!" contest on Indiblogger.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Secret Issues, Open Answers

Women’s intimate health, should the issues remain hushed or is it time we spoke out?

 There are two types of women's health issues. Some on which, all of us should speak out, and some, on which we shouldnt waste much time.  A lot of these depend on what strata of society we are looking at

And yes, I will talk about health issues, where girls in villages, who have just started menstruating, are forced to leave school because of non existent hygeinic toilet facilities.

I will talk about women who are forced to use dirty rags instead of pads.

 I will talk about research done by Maria Fernandes of WaterAid in the interiors of Chattisgarh and MP,  where women from the Saharia tribe of Sheopur describe being locked up in cowsheds, left to use, straw, dirt paper, rags and so on, during those days every month.

And I will mention with horror the dirt insects and infections of the urogenital tract , that the girls are subject to.

All because , no one wants to talk about this in the open and make programs on this on TV. 

Even we did not, till the efforts of Arunachalam Muruganantham  at designing a low cost sanitary pad machine came to light. And at some point , a NGO called Goonj, got the village women into a dialogue about these things and helped them form a self help groups (SHG) that manufactured these low cost pads with Murugananthams technology.

There are intimate issues  of birth control, taboo subjects in families, where visits to doctors consist of the doctor sittng behind a screen asking questions of the lady via her husband, and she answering back the same way. There are infections no one wants to talk about and sometimes these are ignored in the big excitement of having provided a son to the family.

There are issues regarding violence, nutrition for young girls in male centric societies, and so many issues that need us to shout from the rooftops. 

These issues need to be brought out, explained , discussed and the women need to be encouraged to talk. 

And I will not talk about the oft mentioned  sanitary pad ads on TV , which supposedly make folks with remotes , uncomfortable.

I will not mention ads on TV that run down dark complexions and encourage insecure types to slather themselves with lightening creams with untested ingredients, because fair folks get jobs unfairly.

And I will  not talk about ads for pills,  that supposedly allow you to keep your affairs going without the risk of a pregnancy happening, which is what the actual ad implies.

I don't see how girls who wear low waist innerwear exposing trousers, transparent  tops, with a deliberate display of inner straps and assorted stuff, simply in response to some vague current fashion,  need any help talking about initimate issues.

 I don't see, how those who go under the knife, however minute, to augment parts of their anatomy, need any help talking about initimate issues.

 And I still don't see, how those  so called educated types who indulge in hormonal therapy (with proven serious side effects) just to look young , need any help talking about intimate issues.

While discussing and women's intimate issues may have a mixed response, what is clear as daylight is the fact that males need to be educated and sensitized to these issues.    Perhaps some issues will cease to be issues then.


I notice that  this writeup, for the weekend writing competition by Blogadda requires me to add a code, which brings to light the folks in association with whom this is being held.

A surf through their website tells me that their amazing rejuvenating /tightening cream is available  as one jar for Rs 2430 and a set of three  for Rs. 7290 .

Very clearly , this is meant for those  economically gifted, chemically ignorant ladies ,  hovering at the 99th percentile of glamour and beauty, and hankering for that one elusive percent.

For the rest of the hoi polloi, there is always Kegels Exercises .

Whether we then hush  up the exercise discussion or speak out, will be another competition.  

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Cutting Edge......

My life stage (over the hill and descending) ***  and persuasion means that when someone says "Nokia Apptasting",  I hear the tasting part loud and clear, with the Nokia part barely audible.  Then I tried to decode "App" , and not really being a person who is acronym-enabled or word-stingy, I finally decided to go for the meet and find out. 

A cool monsoon evening, and we presented ourselves at the Ballroom at The Taj Lands End at Bandstand, Bandra to attend the Nokia Indiblogger Apptasting Meet.  

An amazing collection of folks from places as far as Pune, Delhi, Surat, and ages that ranged from 1 year 10 months, to 63 years (or more). A ballroom with some dramatic lighting in hues of pink and blue, and an unlikely combination of a (Master)Chef-Vikas Khanna, a TechGuru-Rajiv Makhni,  and Indiblogger organizers, just turned five, exhorting folks to pump their fists up and down saying "Hurr, Hurr", to welcome everyone.

-And so what do you say about a Tech Guru, a TV celebrity, who doesnt get technical at all, despite the predominance of tech type youths derisively looking down at the food types; Who explains the fun and useful things you can do with the latest Nokia to make your life simpler and happier ? 

 Like a phone being able to choose your best photoface from a set of group pictures, and actually coming up with one where everyone has their eyes open , scowls gone, and backs straight.   

Like a phone so clued in, into the general scheme of things  around you, that it will tell you everything from the restaurants/facilities  in the hotel where you are, as well as  such things, in specific directions, for miles around you. Some kind of Geographical Systems with an acronym, but like I said , I am acronym disabled, and its OK to know simply what it can do. 

Like a phone that will do Food and Wine pairing for you automatically, and a Cocktail Flow App.  It goes without saying that there is also an Alcohol Level App to decide whether you should drive or not.

 Like a phone that I can use to morph some features onto  a different face to convince them, that  red bangs, blue eyes, and Angelina Jolie lips do not suit them....     

- And so what do you say about a Master Chef/Author , a TV celebrity, who teaches Onion cutting to the blogging proletariat, and serves Vada Pav starters to President Obama at the White House with equal aplomb and probably doesnt bat an eye when the Pres says "Zara chatni pass kar na ! 

Like , what do you say when the masterchef  calls up his Grandma in Amritsar to virtually touch her feet, is soundly verbosely blessed with the finest vocabulary, and then he wonders, if Nokia chaps can come up with a feet touching-blessing  "App" ? 

 And you feel like wildly applauding when despite the stuffy Oxford dictionary types officially(!) declaring Mulligatawny Soup as India's favourite soup, he bestows that honor on apna Rasam ! 

 And what do you say , when he addresses the hoi polloi on the issue of onion cutting, demonstrates the correct way to do so, to keep the onion from slipping away, by ensuring it remembers it roots ?

And then it occurs to me that Cutting Edge Technology is employable in Phone Apps as well as Cutting Onions.   Techies simply dont have a clue about Onions, where as Foodies  at least try the Tech Apps,  in between sips and bites.

And I wonder then, if Nokia Apps can be used to morph an onion picture back into its uncut state using all these battered pieces ? And is someone in danger of cutting a finger with this cutting edge ?

 With all this creativity happening, it fell to a certain poetry blogger to write something from the POV of the Onion.   

Its Body in whorls,
Its Mind in a whirl,
an onion
traumatized and falling apart...

And she puts
a reassuring hand
on its  Root Knot,
"You must remain connected
with your Root,
whether you
Are falling to pieces,
Really cut up,
or showing someone a Slice of your life....

And a blushing tomato
watching this, sighed,
"Kaash ! mai Root Hoti !...."

Turns out , I am not the only one who  thinks there is cutting edge stuff happening in not just in Apps , but very much so in Foods and Tasting  too !

Great Scientist, Dr Jacob Bronowski, the mind behind the amazing BBC documentary , "The Ascent of Man " actually did say :

"The Hand is the Cutting Edge of the Mind ! "

Nokiawale, eat your heart out . Food and Onion cuttingwale,  rejoice !

Ab bolo ! 

*** All was not lost. I won a Nokia Universal USB Charger simply for going up on the stage  and doing Cutting Edge "shakehands" with Messrs Khanna and Makhni ...:-))

(posted also on the Indiblogger NokiaAppTasting Experience Page)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Speed and the art of motorcycle driving...

 I grew up ,in what would be called today, an ecologically sustainable  and/or green time.

All  high school kids then hankered after their own bicycles, which formed what was euphemistically termed as "rush hour traffic"  on the Pune roads at 10 am. Few folks had cars, and they were sensibly used for sedate driving, without an iota of aggression. I remember, all cycles had to have some kind of municipal badge nailed on somewhere , which you paid for, and the cops always did surprise checks on the roads. Those found badgeless, simply had the air let out of their wheels, and a fine. The bikes also had clip-on lights for night riding, and upwardly mobile types had "dynamos". None of the cycles were of the type where you were positioned parallel to the road in a pseudo racing posture, designed to give you a Cubital tunnel syndrome.

They soon introduced scooters and scooterettes. You had to register for these, and there was a huge waiting period. Women's outfits had not changed in years, and women rode around on scooters and scooterettes, in sarees, with the palloos(ends) tucked in at the waist. The height of excitement was when some lady's saree paloo and pleats got entangled in the scooterette wheels , and there was a complete episode of Draupadi vastraharan at a prominent  junction of Lakdi Pool in Pune, as her saree unravelled and ravelled , with the cops helping her to disentangle .  It is pertinent to note that folks did not gape at her.  My father had purchased one of these scooterette things out of green considerations (lighter weight, smaller engine, lesser pollution), and we soon sold it off.

Motorcycles (Enfield bullets) had started appearing in the 50's ,  followed by the Bajaj Chetak scooter, which was as Blue Chip as you could get. The scooter was fairly safe by design , for saree clad types, and motorcycles had wheel guard things. Folks in rural areas around Pune, mainly agricultural folks,  favoured the motorcycles, for their ability to ride through bad roads and fields . The scooter was the urban counterpart.  At most times, folks had an abiding respect for vehicle power and speed.

Today, motorcycles and fancy fashionable two wheelers rule the roost. At least in Mumbai.  Helmets give a sense of anonymity, and the drivers seem to think they can take the law and road into their own hands.

In a country that drives on the left, it is understood that overtaking must happen from the right.  Sadly most motorcycle chaps in Mumbai do not know their lefts and rights.

You signal your intention to turn left for about half a kilometre before you actually do, and yet you have motorcycle fellows scraping by from the left, almost damaging your vehicle, and setting themselves up for a collision at the turning.  I have now taken to sticking my hand out of the window and glaring at the motorcycles from the passenger seat. Which kind of works, but what do you do when you are the driver ?

I have had occasion to get off a bus only to just avoid a collision with a motorcycle chap, revving in anger at having to stop, as he drives between the bus and the bus-stop, and to hell with whoever gets hit with his steering wheel.   You try to tell them something, since more folks are getting off the bus, and the fellow just shakes his helmeted visage mindlessly, and honks repeatedly. 

Yesterday, a news item  indicated that a cop tried to stop a bunch of two wheelers from getting on to a flyover , in the downtown area of Mumbai, where they were prohibited.    The drivers got so angry that they all beat up the cop and vamoosed as people rushed there.

I once saw a cop ticketing a motorcycle rider for not wearing a helmet/breaking traffic lights/speeding  and I asked why they didn't remove the air from the tyres (like they did in my cycling days).  There was an exchange of "papers"happening, the motorcycle chap gave me a mean look, and told me he paid his taxes . I had to inform him that I did too, and it didn't entitle him to speed and injure folks. The cop then tells me that if he stopped and flattened tyres of every culprit motorcycle, there would huge traffic jams behind. Which was not going to work.  

Today , two wheelers have become a "sport" for young folks, who are often "gifted" these "toys" straight out of high school. Sleek designs, colors, macho ads, and a derision of anything slow has become the norm. For the upper classes, the same thing holds , but in 4 wheelers of obscenely high horsepower levels.

Someone, somewhere has lost the art of decent responsible motorcycle driving.

Are we going too fast as a society ?  Yes we are, and we have lost all sensitivity regarding anything or anyone slow.  Riding rough shod over someone weaker is considered smart.   The proliferation of cell phone and Internet technologies, demanding and getting answers immediately,  has not helped.

People's perceptions have changed,  and sadly, one sees , on places like  Twitter and FB, a complete lack of sensitivity , with  people outrageously and blithely referring to "retard" as a look.  Thoughtless terminology and jumping on bandwagons without stopping to think. I have instantly "unfollowed" and "unfriended " folks  when I have come across this.   

Mumbai's increase in the police force has not kept up with the  traffic and population increase, thanks to it being the commercial capital and the endless immigration into the city.  It is customary for everyone to blame the police ad even talk derisively about them.

At some point, we need to self-police. We don't always need to strain at the leash vis-a-vis a censoring body.  We need speed controllers in our brains before someone decrees they be fitted on vehicles by law. Some built-in mental speed breakers like "thinking a bit" might yield a better life than constantly loading your lives with a fight-or-flight adrenaline flood.

This is not to rubbish those folks, who drive motorcycles intelligently, following strict rules of the road, with a decent respect for speed and its limitations. These people often understand their vehicles, the road and the rules, drive as a hobby, and there is strict adherence to self set or group rules.

Power corrupts. Power hurts .  Power spoils. Sometimes , the Power even goes. 

Whether it is about riding a horse or a motorcycle, or mindlessly violently reacting to something, like someone said, most motorcycle problems are caused by the nut that connects the handlebars to the saddle.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Earth Gene ....(reloaded)

Reposting  something I wrote 3 years ago .....

They say life evolved from a magical mix of the right chemicals on our planet,  and amino acids happened . Apparently various organic carbon compounds containing carbon and water , when zapped by a great energy source give rise to amino acids, which are the mother and father of proteins,  which are actually the  things that manage our cells.

And so our DNA's are really based on the earth's biology.

To cut a long and complicated story short, I believe all our DNA's have some little coded strand somewhere, that links us to the land we call our own, inextricably linked to the chemistry of that special earth.

Somewhere , around 30-40 years ago, migration from India  to the West was a sort of meandering river for several years.  Most parents then , slogged very hard to educate their children , denying  themselves things and saving up,   and  it was very common then for children to get financial aid from the Universities abroad  because of their hardearned excellent academic performance.  Today,
what with  the economic situation changing over the years, the situation is so different that it is not uncommon to find one child studying/working abroad in a given urban family.

But there has been a price to pay, in terms of  wistful parents in their old age,  in a society, where there has been a sudden jump. From a society where grown children lived with their families with parents, quiet happily,    to   an entire population of old parents, that feels the geriatric loneliness,  but continues to put up a smiling face to the world, taking solace in the fast communications and visuals of the web cam. Where emails have replaced a worried look,  and  webcam  appearances  fill in for a reassuring  hand on the elbow.

M was a neighbor and my mother's great friend.   Our entire childhood was spent hopping in and out of each other's houses, and we children looked upon her slightly older children, all sons,  as kind of role models  when we  were in school. She was a natural teacher, and a Sanskrit and Mathematics scholar, besides being an amazing mimic with a dramatic bent. She coached students in these subjects at home throughout her life.

The 70's and eighties saw many of us go to the US, some for further studies to return later, and some to a new life in the New World, after completing post graduations.  Empty nests were never earlier part of the Indian scene as such. The biggest trauma was seeing your daughter leave to go to her marital home, after her marriage. But somewhere around the late eighties and nineties  these same parents suddenly started acknowledging  the diminishing nest.

M had three sons, all in the US.  One , who had lived with her all along, (and whose children she had looked after as a priority,  like her own, so that the couple could work ,)  had just left, and she and her husband, a literary person led their own peaceful life, occasionally struggling with old age health problems.  They missed their grandkids a lot  But didnt want to stand in the way of anyone's ambitions and career plans.  The public face was a tad different from what  we saw....

Between the two families, I was the only girl child who came back from grad school in the US and remained in India,  and I would always go look them up on my visits to my maternal home.  They would be full of news about their grandchildren and children.  They had visited the US a few times for family occasions  when some of the older  grandchildren were young, and had great memories.  M's health problems now limited her mobility, and so she didn't go on too many long trips.  Instead she was a very enthusiastic participant in all kinds of social activities, and  was my main accomplice when I was planning a surprise 61st birthday party for my mother, her best friend.  She even composed a poem for that occasion and recited it.

One day, I got a call from home, giving me the terrible news. M's husband had passed away in his sleep, after complaining of slight discomfort, after a day spent  with some visiting friends. M was devastated. So were my folks, who did their best to help her get back into the run of things in the house, once all the rush of  people coming to offer condolences was over.

The children came down from the US.  Some to help her organize the confusing paperwork, now that she was  by herself.   Some just because they thought they should come. And some. because they  simply could not stay away. But everyone had to go back to their jobs. It cost a huge amount for entire families to visit, and while the sons came to visit, their families could not.

The nature and vibrancy of  Indian society,  enables a reasonably fast return to a normal life,  with lots of neighbors, friends, relatives, crowding your day, leaving you little time to brood. M's leg was troubling her a bit more now, her movement was restricted. But a whole bunch of parents came by and urged her to take extra classes for their children,  and she got used to a solitary life enlivened by these activities.  Her friends would drop by,  take her along  to attend the Marathi theatre ,  which she really enjoyed.  She stopped walking too much, and my mother really missed her friend when she herself was packing for a trip to the US to visit her own sons, and M could not come by because it meant she had to climb a floor.  As very old friends  since their late twenties with small children, they both shared a lot of confidences, and understood each other very well.

Then suddenly one day, i heard that M was shifting to the US. To be with her sons. They worried about her staying alone. This way she would be close by, and part of their lives.  My mother knew about it several months earlier, when M had to make a decision.  She could sense was M was thinking. But she also knew, that M would think of herself last, worry about her staying alone causing worry to her children, and as she said , "what could be better than living out your last few years around your children , enjoying their success in life ?".

Her youngest came to escort her to the US.  She would stay initially with her youngest child .  I had known this fellow as a baby, and was close to him. I was glad she would be with him to begin with.  Her house, a rented place, with fixtures and furniture from the childrens'  young  days  was locked up. The landlord, who himself had learned his maths and Sanskrit at her feet, said he would retain the place for her as long as she cared to visit.  I would often walk past the place on my visits to my folks , see the boarded windows , search for a gleam of light unconsciously somewhere,    suddenly get a lump in my throat and move on.

I lost my mother the next year, and M never saw her friend again
My mother,  had returned from a trip to the US where she had gone to attend a grandson's graduation. She had had a bit of a health scare there, but had managed on sheer will power. She flew a long tiring trip of 23 hours, almost exactly 9 years ago, to come stay with me for a while before going to her place. She never did. It was as if  she was waiting to reach her homeland before she let go.

I did hear later on from  M  by post.  She was very aware of the cost of long transatlantic phone calls,  and restrained herself.   I  made several trips to my parents place during the year, to do some paperwork, and complete the various formalities, as I was the only child in India, and it fell upon me. I missed the old places to go to.  And I wished M was there and that I could go talk to her about my mother.

A year later, on my visit to my parents' house, a neighbor mentioned M was back.  Most folks were incredulous. I was, to put it simply, thrilled.  I rushed off to her place that afternoon, and was presented with a tableau of M sitting in her living room, her leg resting on a pillow, and assorted middle school children with notebooks sitting around her .  The parents in the locality had heard she was back, and had so much faith in her abilities to teach their children, that they came rushing in to welcome her and  pleaded with her to start the classes again.

M was back doing what she loved.

I spent an evening with her, listening and talking,  and what emerged was something different. She was very comfortable living with her sons . But she had nothing she could do,  as unlike in India, there was no concept of people dropping in unannounced. The daughters in law had everything so well set, that they left her out of any work that she could help with in the house. And after so many years , her childrens'  families were busy with their own lives, and had little time for her. Casual conversations almost never happened. Everyone was busy.  This was worrisome for M. She alternated amongst the children, with the same final conclusion. She was a misfit.  Something that was considered normal family conversation in an Indian set up, was now raising eyebrows here.   She felt bad about her decision to return. But she wouldn't want to cause a problem in the lives of any of her sons,  because she was unable to follow certain norms. Her leg disability restricted her ability to move out of the house, and everyone was very too busy to chauffeur her around, it seemed.    Back in India, there were so many people around, she could always wave and stop a three wheeler and go wherever she wanted.  Some were even available on phone and would come by to pick you up. She had a talk with her sons and families,  and one fine day, her youngest who escorted her to the US, now accompanied her back to settle her in.

M had tears in her eyes when she told me some of her experiences  within the family.   I made something simple for both of us that evening and both of us shared a quiet dinner.  She with a daughter she never had, and me with a mother who was the closest to mine.  There was a caretaker lady who came in every evening, cleaned up the place, stayed the night and left after breakfast in the morning, after M had had her bath. M needed help moving around.

I kept meeting M thereafter, often consulting her and confiding in her regarding whatever I was working on,  and although physically deteriorating, you could see that she was happy with her life, grateful to all those who made her day, and enjoyed sudden visitors like me.  Old students of hers  insisted she attend their weddings, someone always came to escort and help her there,  some people landed up with sweets to celebrate the success of their child in some exam that she had helped study for.  Old folks from the locality, often dropped in to compare notes, talk about hired help, doctors and typical topics such people discuss. And she would write lots of letters. Like the one she wrote my daughter after she competed her boards successfully . Small things, but they thrilled us no end.

One night she went to sleep,  and the care taker lady , taking tea to wake her, the next morning,  found out that everything was over.  Just like that.  They called a nephew . He came, took charge and did all the rituals and formalities. None of her sons were able to come at such a short notice.  After a suitable interval, the  landlord  requested the sons to shift the belongings as he wished to allocate the place to someone else, now that M was no more. And one of them came. To do the needful, as they say.

I often wonder, if there is an element of your own earth in your DNA.   The feeling of  wanting to wing home.

Various people have it to various extents .  M had it. My mother had it. To some extent I have it too.   I have travelled and stayed  for longish periods in many countries, made some very close friends there.  But I have always felt that this is my home and my place .  Notwithstanding the daily uncertainties of life , the various hassles ,  unreliable innovative services ,  inability to do things on time  etc etc,  this is my place, and  it is something, that probably sits there, winking , in one corner of the protein strings of my DNA,  as the earth gene in my DNA.  It probably came there when I grew up, and is , what scientists call, a dominant gene.

Dr Barbara McClintock, in her Nobel lecture (1983) on the human genome said :
"The ability of a cell to sense these broken ends, to direct them towards each other, and then to unite them so that the union of the two DNA strands is correctly oriented, is a particularly revealing example of the sensitivity of cells to all that is going on within them. They make wise decisions and act on them."

I certainly think the cells have the right idea.   Some cells make wise decisions , some don't.

Some folks  have that gene, some don't. Sometimes it is dominant, sometimes it is recessive.

As you get older , like me, you notice the dominancy peering round the corner.

And sometimes,  you sit back, smile, take a deep breath, and say  - "Welcome !".....

Friday, August 10, 2012

Illusory Cures.....

Despite a physically very active childhood , a decent participation in sports and so on when young, it is often true, that as one ages , there is some part of the anatomy , that is the first to react in , say, stressful situations, and it is then said that the person's so-and-so,such-and-such is "susceptible".

For her, it was her back, and her digestion.

For sudden onsets of crises, it was always the stomach. Faced with a sudden unfortunate event, impending anxiety, bad news or  even family health situation,  she always thought calmly and clearly, not getting flustered, while the tension quickly got absorbed in her stomach which went into knots, only to relax into peristalsis, and have her desperately searching  for loos, when the peak of the crises situation had passed.

For stuff that built up over a period of time, it was the back. Overstressing of some part around 34 years back, had resulted into something in the low back tightening itself shut, when physical/mental stress piled up over time. And she went through days of back pain, walking at an angle,slowly straightening, feeling distinctly better when she rested in a particular way, and felt like she was  responsible, possibly, for the major profits of all ointment companies in the market.  It wasn't possible to "take rest" as life had to go on, and the situation would resolve itself over a longish period of time.

Her sleep at night was disturbed occasionally as the dull pain didnt remain so dull when she changed positions.

And then she had that dream.

Her back had been massaged in the dream . No clue as to who did the good deed, but wondrously and possibly acrobatically, it  happened when she was lying on her back !  Whatever was applied was shining. She saw herself (in her own dream) lying down, on her back, eyes shut , enjoying the beginnings, of the results of that massage.

Then things suddenly veered into real time, and there was a growing feeling of diffused heat across the entire back, as if someone had spread  hot ghee-roasted rawa across the back. The heat kind of sneaked upwards near the shoulderblades, lulling her into a nap.  At somepoint, the dream part disappeared, as she actually felt the fomenting heat, the relaxation, and the overpowering sense of sleep.

She doesnt know if she awakened because  the pain stopped after a relaxing sleep, or because it was just a standard  morning awakening.

But the pain had gone. The back rested under a sense of massage. She got up, and was amazed to be able to stand up straight without holding intermittent tilted positions.

It was a new day, and she got on with the business of living in a real world with timetables, food, communications, work and so on.

Sometime, just before lunchtime, the pain returned.  

It was , as if the pain was a child playing truant from school, wanting to chase butterflies;  after a joyous interlude,  the child suddenly heard the school bell,  returned, and was cajoled into  sitting in his place doing his sums by the strict teacher. 

But it makes her wonder.   Can an illusory massage  actually spillover into real life , such that your real pain appears to have gone, for a decent length of time ?  Are dreams real ?  Is there an interface in the brain, a kind of slow, self cleaning cache, between our dream system and real life ? What decides how fast the cache is emptied  ?

Has anyone had a similar experience ?   

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Competing to learn ? Learning to Compete ?

Have just been reading this post, "Of Not Being First..or Of Being Last?"
at R's Mom's blog .

And it brought back some memories of 29-30 years ago.

The son was in kindergarten, was unaware of anything called exams, although the kids were evaluated and reports were written.  Those were the days when kindergaarten sports meant, you ran races, and if your best friend looked like he  was behind, you stopped for him to catch up, then ran ahead together; and to hell with breasting the tape.

Annual days had prizes for folks standing first, second  and third  in things, like spelling, drawing, paper tearing, beads etc.  But  the kids themselves didn't become aware of this "competition" unless the parents insisted on doing the terrible deed.

First standard was the fountainhead of the eternal rat race.  Mothers coming at lunchtime wringing their hands because their child refused to write stuff in his books from the blackboard. Large remarks saying "Incomplete" (in red) , in the classwork book, because the child didn't write/copy down stuff. Overt open praise in class for those who wrote out everything, combined with pointing out those who did not.And the omnipresent unit tests. where you sank under the weight of Subtractions with Carry, Living and Non living things, Shivaji,Dadabhai Naoroji, Raja Ram Mohan Roy , the British, the Moghuls, Oxygen etc etc.

The son never learnt by rote, so the only way to make learning fun, was to give him a fun quiz on stuff, when you left for work in the afternoon. He had to finish it and then the evening was his to play as much as he wanted with his friends, ride tricycles and so on. I used to casually glance through the text book, and write a quiz sheet, which was presented to him with much importance.

That year we went to the US for a summer assignment, and the two countries' summers being at different times, took some of his books along , so he could keep in touch with stuff. His cousins in the US were in kindergaarten too,  and things were greatly different. There was a lot of hands on learning, lots of craft work that taught you stuff , and really no competition of any kind.

The only competition was what I initiated at home. One of the cousins refused to drink up her her milk. So I would answer these fake calls from what was called the Mickey Mouse Club, asking if the milk was being drunk, as it was a requirement for membership. She would suddenly go alert, lift the mug, and listen in on the side, as the milk got slowly imbibed. Once in a while, I would praise her on the phone saying they could call in 5 minutes and the milk would be over. When it was time for us to leave after a month, I bought all the children puzzles and globes(of the universe), and said these were sent by  the Mickey Mouse people, and we had an awards evening.

I never knew the success of this till the same cousin, a new mother herself now, was heard complaining recently to my son on the phone, about her daughter who refused to drink milk,   and she thought the Mickey Mouse Club stuff needed to be activated.

There was really no element of competition in school there, which my son attended for a few weeks with his cousins.  We managed to look up some stuff in his school books which we had taken along, and once a week or twice we would do the quiz stuff.

Back after the trip, his school here resumed, and he was able to catch up with stuff he had missed. They soon had the dreaded Unit tests.  Which were much like the quizzes we did for fun. The son's English had unconsciously improved simply because he was forced to communicate with other kids his age in the US when playing, and it gave him sort of confidence. He did well, and  for some reason, stood first.

A few evenings later, a gentleman colleague, involved in technological education at the highest level,  stopped us as we were going shopping for vegetables.

" Excuse me, I wanted to ask you something ..."   giving us a challenging look.

"Sure. Go ahead " . We. Wondering.

" Your son. He stood first .Who "takes" his daily studies ?  "  And he glances alternately at each of us.  

No one in the house gave those quizzes any importance. It was just something he had to do before he could go out and play. We just smiled and laughed the question away. In an Institute involved with the highest levels of learning, you didn't agonize over technicalities of first standard studies.

Turned out, that the gentleman's daughter, the son's classmate , had kind of slogged for these tests, not come first, and it was hurting. Possibly, not the little girl, but the parents.

That was our introduction to competition from primary school onwards, kids misleading other kids about grades and marks,  keeping track of each others totals , grades and so on.  While we expected our son to study and do well, beating someone else at the game was not the objective.  It still isn't.  

Sometimes,  people in their tunnel vision effort, lose overall perspective. I once went to congratulate a fellow who had successfully passed a hughly competitive, fairly difficult,  National entrance test to some of India's best known colleges. The entire family appeared to be in mourning because his rank had slipped over into four digits from three digits. 

Those who sailed through the rivers of competition  desperate to beat others and come first, were often bereft of friends. They were possibly also the originators of the currently common gesture (of winning) where you pump your fist and move your hand like you are pulling a high wall mounted flush , in the old style bathrooms, and shout a hissing "Yesssss!".  

A healthy interest in how someone else was doing, was also there when I went to school, 50 years ago. Our parents also wanted us to do well.  But there was no rubbing in of your success  in other lives, and you quietly got on with things.

It is amazing, that today's parents, who right from the child's first day at school , agonize so much over ranks, first, second, numbers, and so on,  sometimes safely forget the concept  when faced with queues in daily life.........:-))

Saturday, August 04, 2012

STOP PRESS ! Mars sends a satellite to learn about the Earth....

News has just come in about the Union cabinet giving its nod to India's first umnanned mission to Mars. The whole idea is to be in an orbit close to Mars and conduct scientific experiments that reveal something about the geology, the climate and so on about Mars. The cost? A  piddling  70 to 90million US dollars.  Ever since the scams happened  the perception has changed, although we may be unsure of the number of zeros....

The mission to Mars may commence in 2013, or 2014, and if that doesn't work out for whatever reasons, the the next dates possible are in 2016 or 2018. And whats more, the 2016 mission might be manned (or womaned ?)...! (And no , applications are NOT invited, there will be no centralized selection test, and you cannot go on a fast)

At this point , one remembers the Chandrayan , unmanned mission to the moon, that happened a few years ago and was lauded because it found water and a  "protective magnetic field" on the moon.

I wonder if we can launch some kind of satellites, to simply hover around India, and tell us something about the climate, water and geology .  I know there may already be such satellites; but clearly , like our ministers ,they are not doing what they should

I even wonder sometimes, if we actually see the negative ( in the old photographic sense)  of the actual picture from the satellites, and do not realize it.  Because our meteorological folks simply keep on getting things wrong. A normal monsoon prediction changes to a drought in a matter of 2 months. 

It might actually be interesting to think about some other planet, say Mars,  sending a satellite to hover around the Earth, and specifically India . And it would be more than interesting to speculate on what they would see. 

Lights going on and off across half the country, as if in some celebration. Studies would later indicate that it was because of power thievery, losses in transmission and distribution.

And those collecting the information via the satellite would be aghast to see that  these same 3 things keep happening everywhere all the time.  Powers of ministers change officially even in the subcontinental dark.   Transmission losses and dicey distribution, per se, will be observed as routine  things, happening in all walks of life.

Not only will the analyzing  satellites observe our water, but they will observe how we alter the flows, sometimes by building huge dams, sometimes by simply discharging industrial muck into it, and sometimes, deliberately, by guiding it into canals, so certain power agriculturists benefit at the cost of entire cities.  They will also observe, how fields on the banks of some of the big rivers are slowly giving way to huge townships, and fancy expressways.

It might be also possible to notice floods  in some parts of the country, and folks checking  the satellite photos might simply wonder at the logic of powerful folks in helicopters  flying around trying to see the floods, as  ordinary types congregate in relief camps pointlessly expecting relief.

The geological observations , particularly in the south and east, would reveal amazing things like entire mountains being dug up, packed into trucks, and surreptitiously sold as mineral ore, as various power plants struggle with their meagre supply of coal.

Way up north, they would notice icy glaciers, where they would observe folks with weapons and flags, making do with substandard stuff and still winning , because that's what they were issued and that's what they were trained to do. And the satellite fellows would wonder about folks in a different uniform sneaking in through mountain passes and tunnels.

It would be amazing to see the  sea near Mumbai all agitated given the fact that it was being displaced by some folks trying to push it back and claiming the land for themselves. A Satellite view of various hills in and around Mumbai-Pune being emptied of trees to build hill stations would probably teach the satellite fellows a thing or two. And they would be totally perplexed to see that ten miles away from such places with Jacuzzis and infinite pools,  a line of village women could be trudging up and down across hills, with pots to collect drinking water for their daily use.

And of course, they would be amused at the number of towers sprouting up across the land, which they will learn , is for the cell phone folks.  And just within a mile of that there would be this locked up, collapsing schoolhouse with rusted windows, and an empty water tap hissing air. Flying a bit closer and they would capture images of folks carrying their sick and aged through hell and high water to reach the nearest ill equipped rural health care centre 10 miles away, because proper roads didn't seem to exist.

But the most amazing thing noted would be the number of bipeds, walking around tapping on small and big keyboards, wires in their ears, falling like garlands around their necks, side by side with visions of old chaps , in houses, sitting with rectangular maps , discussing, planets and unions of two families , and saying how Mars was causing all the problems.

Clearly the guys trying to learn from satellite observations would be confused, to say the least.   Such a let down , when their bosses  spent so much of their planets money, sending satellites into orbit to study what they saw on Earth. 

And then they would, just out of curiosity, check about the science of forecasting via planets.  Like they saw folks on the Earth doing.

Guys in green, antennas on elongated heads, pouring over charts.

And one of the big chaps would look up, clear his super long throat , shake is head, fold up his antennas, and announce, " We need to call off this project. Earth is malefic.  Won't work for us ...."