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.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

A nice kind of crazy .....

 It was the spring on 1979.  There was a new grandchild in the house, I was at my maternal home post delivery, and it so happened that my mother would be completing 60 years a month later. She never liked a formal fuss, did not enjoy grand expenditures and show, my parents dietary habits ruled out wild food indulgences, and since I was their only child resident in the country, I racked my brain incessantly on what was the best gift I could give.

Once the baby and feeding routines had settled down predictably, and the general fuss about massages and stuff for the new mother had subsided,  I would occasionally manage to go out for an  hour or a bit more with friends and relatives, and my folks were only too thrilled to be with their grandson  during that time.

That's when the craziness began....

Intense discussions with friends, consulting with close relatives, and I concluded that a surprise party and something new for the house would be the best gift. Those were days when having a color TV was a luxury, there were no such things as home theatres; you either stayed home or went to the theatre to see a play. My father thought the car was a white elephant guzzling gas,  commercials were the worst things to have happened to TV, watches were to be eternally preserved  from the time you got them till you were 80 or something, and my mother had some really ancient sarees that stayed as good as new. It wasn't so much about personal gifts.  There was a lot of space in the house, and we thought a new carpet would be ideal (although they would immediately say the old one was perfect , why a new one  etc and so on......:-).

Several secret trips with a cousin, friends, even some of my mother's friends. Whispered phone calls,  the minute my parents stepped out of the house for something. Lists of various types , and visits to invite some of her special old friends for a surprise party ensued. All done surreptitiously.  The carpet was shopped for, loaded on top of the Fiat car carrier, and we drove straight to my Mom's friend's house, hoping no one had seen us zipping by with the overhead load . A pale gold large carpet, ideal for use when having ladies haldikumkums and stuff.  The folks in that house were aghast to see me walking in supporting one edge of the carpet; they probably thought I should be barely bending my back, after a Cesarean delivery, and rushed to help out. Everyone was sworn to secrecy, the son of the house was asked to shove it under the bed (lest my Mom visited them ) .  The menu was planned, everyone offered to bring a dish,  various folks were bidden to appear that day, come what may, at the appointed time.  I would cook the meal and so we had one of my mother's best friends come to spend the day, so both could simply attend to my son and enjoy !  My husband would come at the last moment, pick up the carpet and bring it home with the help of our neighbor's son. It was not possible for a single person to move stuff around.

The day dawned, I wished my Mom, did pranams, and told her that folks would be coming . Then she complicated things by saying she knew people would bear gifts and I should actually go out and get return gifts for everyone .

All this gifting stuff was getting complicated. She didn't know about the carpet yet. She thought some travel bags would be great to give everyone. So I hot footed it to the city main shopping area, and an hour or more later drove back with 25 blue small square  carryon suitcases , studded all around me and above me in the small Fiat. They used to be known as Air India bags then, and greatly admired (because some said you got them free if you flew AI.)

While my Mom was delighted to see so many of her old friends landing up, she was a bit aghast to see her son-in-law lugging a huge rolled carpet 2 floors up with the aid of the neighbors son. We did Aarti,  ladies did haldikumkum, everyone got  jasmine gajras, flowers, sprinklings of rosewater. The carpet was inaugurated.  One of her closest friends did an  amazing mimicry program  and songs. The ladies oohed and aahed over the grandson, I was run off my feet going up and down with the food and mattresess and cushions  and stuff, and the ladies suitably expressed their displeasure at these capers of a woman one month after her delivery. I wasn't about to listen to anyone, and had been planning this thing for so long !   Yes it was a lot to do, but then so many chipped in with their own kind of help.   The pot luck food dishes were shared by all.

Looking back, I often wonder how it would have been if I could order stuff to be delivered. I mean I could have shopped on line, chosen, had the stuff either delivered to the neighbors, or specified the delivery date . (I know. I wouldn't have trusted the latter).   No one would have looked on suspiciously at the hitherto  whispered phone calls, the sudden silences, and the quick one hour trips, driving with friends, where, supposedly nothing exciting happened.

But orderly as it would have been in an online world (which didn't really exist then), there would have not been the secrecy, the rushing around, the pretending, the hiding, and the general craziness that was the hallmark of this event.

It isn't so much  what you gift. It is all about how you gift.

And it's all about your own special gift later, where you got a sore back with all that running around, you lay down  , and  the birthday woman sat down by your side, ,  reminisced about the evening, while slowly rubbing and massaging your back .....

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

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ancient Crushes

I was spring-cleaning  through my various blogs. Including one called Reghotya where I post a lot of imaginary posts with really bad art work, , with a lot of intense glossal movement in the mala or bucca. Which is a very fancy word for tongue-in-cheek. (I just made it up. but it's scientific- check it).......

I came upon a post which I wrote for a competition titled  "My first Crush" organized by the folks at Blogadda.   Back then in 2010.  I have no clue why I posted it there, as there is nothing tongue-in-cheek about it, where as it should have actually been posted in this blog, Gappa.   

I think it is in the fitness of things, that  I repost it here. The world needs to know about The First Crush, more than 50 years down the line. Besides, its just ideal for this debilitating October heat....   

P. S. It won a prize :-)

My First Crush !

The summer of 1957. I was eight.

Saturday evening at dusk. It was on one of Pune's then main thoroughfares. A very ordinary looking three storey structure, with a name written with a grand flourish across a background of cement flowers, cracking at the edges.

We were in a special area on the first floor, with nicer tables and chairs, than say the ground floor, where flinging a towel on your shoulder, and shouting out the order in convoluted complex English, was the style of the day. We had folks who sedately moved around asking what your order was, kind of whispered it to the next important functionary, and the four of us sat at one of the hexagonal tables, that seemed to have an imposing huge stone as a table top, terribly at variance with the folding metal chairs.

The two of us were so excited. In those days, such trips were rare. Going out, per se, was not the done thing. But this was special. A celebration. I forget the reason. It was enough that we were there.

We watched the folks at the other tables. Not too many mothers there. Every now and then we would watch waiters coming with full trays, hoping they would stop at our table. The elderly waiter would smile at us, seeing our desperation.

Finally, the waiting ended. It had arrived. My first crush . Alphonso Hapoos Mango pieces crushingly slathered in hand churned mango ice cream, presented in a boat shaped false silver plate, with two spoons; one flat and the other , normal.

There was a new light in my eyes. The waiting was all worth it. I could keep on looking at it, but the latitude and longitude of Pune ensured, that the crush would lose its solidity, if I followed that path.

I followed his eyes, now focused on the crush in front of him. Did he get more ice cream than I did ? Were his mango pieces larger ? Was I jealous ? Was he jealous ?

We started picking at the ice cream, enjoying the flavour as it tingled the tongue and built up a sensation of wanting more. There was a technique we followed , on such occasions, which were not frequent at all. The idea was to keep eating small amounts, so that after an unbearably long time, the other person's ice cream got over, and you still had a half plate of the crush in front of you.

The trouble was he had the same idea. And so you have the story of my first crush, redolent of Alphonso mango fruit, and completely blanketed by mango ice cream so to speak, now trying to lie at the side of the fruit pieces, in puddles, probably disgusted at the stubborn behaviour of the imbibers.

My father looked at his watch. he had promised to bring us home by 7 pm. It was getting late, and my brother and I, out on this special treat with him, were making things difficult trying to win, as to who came last.

"OK. You both have 5 minutes. I want everything lapped up, no wasting stuff. If you can't eat it, then slurp it or drink it. We need to leave......"... the referee had spoken.

This was the best part, and we dug in, ecstatically drizzling the melted ice cream over the orange pieces, and literally wolfing it down, and you could see the extra large servings sliding down our throats as the food pipe , in peristalsis, appeared to shiver delightedly from the cold, as it directed the now mushy crush down into the innards, amidst sensations, that cannot be described adequately in words. A cooling feeling at the bottom of the stomach, and before it got over, there would be another mouthful , the mango and the ice cream once again delighting all the senses. We'd sniff the cold spoonful before we ate it, and revel in the aroma of hapoos, cream and saffron.

There would be a sound of a chair scraping, and we knew we were running late. The last semi solid, nectarish mash of hapoos and cream would be drunk straight from the boat shaped plate, paying scant attention to the milk moustache that made its appearance.

My father would offer his handkerchief. We would use it only after licking up the moustache stuff first.

We would emerge, as the street lights came on. Not too much traffic on the road, and crossing was easy.

I have been around . Crossed the world . I have seen the advent of cones and sundaes, and ice cream available in packs in shops. I have seen the 32 flavours. I have seen what is called a softie. I have also see ice creams where the shape of the glass is more important than what is inside, as ice cream. I've seen it thrown into glasses of Coca Cola, and sold at ridiculous prices, and called ridiculous names.

But. What remains, etched , for eternity, in my heart, is the memory of this first crush.

Melting moments , of the icy Alphonso type....

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Imitation Aedes M.

We are such an amazing country. We even call ourselves incredible. 

With dengue being rampant , with water deluges, clogged storm drains, unmanageable  big city infrastructure , and construction material and junk left strewn around  by those who know that the powers that be will ignore it  for reasons of votes,  the government seems to have a knack for maintaining a severe disconnect between a person's qualification/training, and his work.

The youth of the country, tackle a whirlwind of entrance tests to qualify for what they hope will be a good course that will give them a job.  There are all kinds of training Institutes,  some even teach you to speak like someone from another country, so you can spend your sleeping hours on a phone, choosing one of the set answers. I know someone who did a technicians course by day, college by evening, and has inexplicably landed up in a job wrapping chocolates by the kilo.

In this scenario, we have our esteemed ministers for various departments, appointed on their sole ability to nod a Yes.  The assumed versatality of the individual in power is unbelievable.  There is no entrance test, exam, or even certificate from somewhere required for someone to  head any department of the government .

And so we have a health minister ,  unshaken by the encephalitis deaths in eastern UP, and now in Chennai, because of the dengue epidemics, advising folks, to wear full pants and full sleeved shirts  to keep Madam Aedes Mosquitowalla  from biting  them .

(Takes me back to 2009, when I accompanied someone to the suburb of Malad in western Mumbai . The person was new to the area, had to appear for an exam, and I waited at the appointed centre, a local women's college  while the exam finished.  Right from my childhood (an that is more than half a century ago) , when Malad was yet undeveloped , people always spoke of the area being mosquito prone, possibly due to being a marshy area.  My visit confirmed it, as I sat on a bench, in an ill kept garden, slapping and scratching my limbs for the 3 hours that I waited. Mind you, I was not wearing shorts or a miniskirt;  I was swathed , in what would be considered the height of decency, in a full length salwar, almost 3/4th sleeves long knee length kurta and a chunni measuring 2.5 metres.  I came home with red welts all over the lower limbs and arms. )   

I often wonder if this proclivity of offering foolish solutions arises, from the gross ignorance,  inability to learn, lack of curiousity, or simply the conviction that maintaining an "image of a public servant", (band-gala, achkan,chudidaar,,jacket, assorted hangers on, sirens, red beacons  on cars,  impressive security)  is all that they have to do.  It is all a question of appearing to be something. That you are not. The Aedes mosquito is smarter. It knows you have a face. And bites.

I also often wonder why no one thinks of appointing a senior excellent doctor as health minister.  And an experienced agriculturist/development expert as agriculture minister. And maybe a troika of some very experienced grass routes people as rural development GOM.   A senior captain of industry in the relevant ministry. And so on and so forth. But that is not our style.  With a few exceptions (maybe),  the common aim of all those in power is to enhance assets. Not the country's, but their own.

And then I came across this : (The left section is the scientific stuff from the Singapore government page on Dengue.. The section to the right is an example of how it is so easy to emulate the powerful mosquito : a sociological observation. Both entities , in the left and right sections, feed on the general public; sometimes we call these entities,  parasites. Just saying . )

Fast facts about the mosquito

Under optimal conditions, the egg of an Aedes mosquito can hatch into a larva in less than a day. The larva then takes about four days to develop in a pupa, from which an adult mosquito will emerge after two days. Three days after the mosquito has bitten a person and taken in blood, it will lay eggs, and the cycle begins again  Only the female aedes mosquito bites as it needs the protein in blood to develop its eggs.

The mosquito becomes infective approximately 7 days after it has bitten a person carrying the virus. This is the extrinsic incubation period, during which time the virus replicates in the mosquito and reaches the salivary glands.

 Peak biting is at dawn and dusk.

The average lifespan of an Aedes mosquito in Nature is 2 weeks

The mosquito can lay eggs about 3 times in its lifetime, and about 100 eggs are produced each time.

The eggs can lie dormant in dry conditions for up to about 9 months, after which they can hatch if exposed to favourable conditions, i.e. water and foo

Fast facts about the leaders/ministers

 Under optimal conditions, the leader aspirant  can hatch into a pucca leader in less than a day. The leader then takes about four days to develop into a candidate, from which an adult minister will emerge after two months. Three days after the ambition has bitten a person and absorbed in blood, it will start seeking funding , and the cycle begins again.Only the powerful  grab as they need the funds in cash to develop their votebank

The leader becomes effective approximately 7 days after he has gifted monies to  a person carrying the vote. This is the extrinsic incubation period, during which time the person tries to replicate  the leader and reaches the remaining voters.

 Peak intake is at election time.

The average lifespan of an Aedes minister in a capital is 3 years

The minister  can get elected  about 3 times in his lifetime, and  100 times the previous funding is produced each time.

The minister  can lie unperforming in "dry" conditions for up to about 4 months, after which his future depends on whether he is  exposed to favourable conditions, i.e. good rain, water and food in his constituency.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

PotHole City !

On Oct 3, 2012, the Hindustan Times reported that there were only 106 potholes left to be filled on Mumbai's roads.  To be absolutely exact , out of the  24,736 potholes reported,  24,630 potholes had been filled !  

The same day, I traveled 15 kilometres  from a western suburb to my home, and I suspect I actually detected all of them , at the rough rate of 7 to 8 potholes per kilometre.  Which implies that the roads in the rest of Mumbai are as smooth as,  to quote a politician, actress  Hema Mailini's cheeks.  This may be true of Hema Malini's cheeks, but is simply untrue  in the case of the remaining Mumbai roads.

Even the so called protected green areas like Aarey Colony are not spared. Here, even the leopards feel the impact. Mr  Borade, 44, an employee of the Colony Office, was riding his bike at a decent speed, keeping to the sides of the road, since there were huge potholes elsewhere on the stretch of road. He suddenly intersected with a leopard , possibly trying to cross the road, pressed both brakes in shock, fell down, the leopard got a bit entangled . Both Mr Borade and the leopard were hurt.  The matter is said to have been reported to the forest office. No one says anything about the pothole/roads  office.

 Thanks to many factors apart from the scientifically evaluatable ones,  filling of the potholes on Mumbai's roads, the monsoons, and the subsequent washing away of the  carefully placed wash-and-wear fillings, all under the shut-eye of someone looking the other way, has ensured that potholes is an ongoing thing in the history and geography of Mumbai.

So many shows are then conducted . Road contractors are fined. Road contractors are banned.  Fancy machines  worth crores are ordered, because , they can do a sort of on-line fixing of potholes, with some special mix.  Committees are appointed with learned folks from institutions  to evaluate and advise.  They prepare reports.  Seminars happen. By this time another monsoon comes around. New potholes, new promises, new fillings , and the stuff continues ad infinitum.

Someone has now initiated a real time uploading of pothole pictures to guide the civic body.  While this may result in several hefty purchases of PC's and laptops, the main imbalance is in the megahertz speeds of uploading , and the  mega days and mega months required to award contracts, do the work, and pay the contractors. 

The latest is the concept of pothole audit.  The Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has an online portal for citizens to report potholes.  25 % of these will be randomly chosen for audit after October 1, 2012.  Contractors will be taken to task wherever required, and work will be done.

I have a question.  

It is not as if the potholes on other roads are keeping quiet while an audit is happening.  Even if a simple exercise of counting potholes is conducted by the MCGM,  potholes will be constantly be appearing somewhere, while they are being counted somewhere else.

Should a research study estimate the rate of increase in potholes vis-a-vis  time ?  Should it involve the past records ?   While this data will differ based on the various parts of Mumbai, can we come up with a simulation that can predict  the rate of increase of potholes, and where this might happen ?  Can this take into account the differing technologies for pothole filling , possibly used in different parts of Mumbai , at the same time ?  Can someone  fit a polynomial to the amazing graphs, and  predict future potholes and solutions?  And publish this so the MCGM 's work will be cut out well in advance?   (You can always act tough and ban Google from introducing its latest pothole map thing, Google Hole...)......

For each area, the reasons for potholes will range from  rainwater amidst old overloaded storm drains, excessive truck traffic stopping at road junctions,  surreptitious material usage for road building and many other causes. At this point we still ignore the random digging and replacement of road surfaces by the Utility companies.   This begs for judicious decision making suitable for each area.   

And it is not just the road traffic. Pedestrians have also had to face uneven pavements,  suddenly open manholes, or slowly happening potholes, assorted grill type things precariously placed over  holes, not to mention trash sculptures. 

I just wonder if a solution exists. Other than getting powerful dignitaries to constantly visit all over Mumbai, which is the only reason, roads get cleaned, holes get covered, and  potholes get filled up with alacrity. 

Maybe  we need to think out of the box.  Or should I say, pothole .....

Why not declare Mumbai a City of Potholes ? Like Jaipur is called The Pink City, Mumbai can be referred to as the "Pothole City".

For some , the introduction will begin at the runway itself, as the pilot strives to  navigate over  potholes. Folks arriving in the city by various modes like air, train etc, can then possibly buy back-supports and neck supports, specially created for them, and sold at airports and stations.   Like helmets and seat belts, these can be made compulsory for cars, while being completely ignored in buses.

Government can even subsidize the folks manufacturing these.  The various India Fashion Weeks, can even come up with  designer supports for the neck and back, and models can walk the ramp with these , in step with music that replicates Mumbai traffic, complete with police whistles and stuff. Page-3  types can pose in  Varun Jahiliani  neck pieces, and Chanchal Bodericks  back supports.

For those of us that don't spend all our lives on four or even two wheels,  the main concern would be appropriate footwear.  Those insisting on heels and stuff would have the option of switching to wheels, coming up in the world, or both.   Those manufacturing sports shoes will come up with a special version called Pothole Shoes, with Nike coming up with a new logo of a tick mark in a pothole.  Naturally, this will give a big fillip to the footwear industry.  (Possibility of a  subsequent ruckus in Parliament on "FDI in Footwear" cannot be denied....)

There are always  those in the non-wheel proletariat who do not listen to the voice of reason, and are convinced, that  blue jeans always need to be paired with heels of the pointy type.  You could have warnings on roadsides saying  "wearing of heels with point diameter less that  the grill separation on the manhole cover is injurious to your health", but like in the case of cigarettes, it will fall on deaf ears, and blind eyes.

But really.  Why blame the users ?  Those that are supposed to maintain roads are so out of sync with the requirements of the citizens.

Maybe its genetic. And happens everywhere.

In a campus comprising of virgin green and original inhabitants in the form of wild cattle that more or less have roaming rights, an effort was made to  construct gates with what is known as "cattle guards" ;  a set of grills installed as part of the road surface at the gates . This way,  vehicles can rumble over the metal grills noisily, the gates can be kept open  during office and other prescribed hours , and  cattle would  not cross over the grill, for fear of getting their hooves caught in it.

Like the  MCGM and the potholes,  someone must have failed to estimate correctly the size of the bovine hooves, or even after correct estimation, someone must have ignored the installation of the  wrong-grill-interval-cattle guard. 

Today, while cars and two wheelers change gears and rumble over the metal grill plates, and slow down, assorted lumbering powerful bovine folks, sometimes with frisky offspring , are seen casually crossing over, confidently placing their hooves on the grill, chewing the cud avidly , as they enter the academic area.

Well. The Right to Education cannot be denied .......



Sunday, October 07, 2012

Head and Heart ....

When I went to school, we never did a separate course on "communications".  We just learnt the language and its nuances, and picked up the niceties of communication by observation, mostly at home, school and in public spaces.

Very often communication has to do with local culture, and you observe, sift and pickup things that fit in with the ethos of your surroundings and your bringing up.

Then you have folks doing courses in what is  called Corporate Communications (hitherto referred to as CC).

When this is done to get something in return , it is called PR.  

When this is done otherwise, it could be for throwing the company's weight around, being intimidating, or even being euphemistic about some impending unhappy event like layoffs and so on.   Many times these folks in CC, get so carried away, they lose track with ground realities .

An afternoon in the living room. The land line rings. A very posh and cultured voice . 
"I am calling from the LIC Zonal office " ..the-voice 
"Yes ?" Me. Wondering. 
"We need to talk to Mr Darshan Patel" ...the-voice 
"I am sorry. You have the wrong number, no one by that name lives here." Me 
" How can that be ? I have called this number several times" ...the-voice 
" Are you trying to call Jalgaon, because the STD code is sometimes dialled in error with a digit missing and we get the call in Mumbai . Sometimes dialling from a mobile and land line is different." Me trying to help. 
" How can it be Mumbai ? I must have made more than a lakh calls to this number ! This must be Jalgaon. Call your manager. I insist " the-voice 
" Hello. This is a Mumbai Powai number. I am here sitting in Mumbai and cannot say that this is Jalgaon, much as you might like me to. Me . 
"How can u be in Mumbai ? You are lying. Call Mr Darshan Patell. Better , Call the Manager !. the-voice 
" Ma'am, this is a residence, and I am the Manager . Ab bolo. " 

Just wondering why she made one lakh (100,000) calls to the number ?

This conversation happened yesterday afternoon. And found its way to FB  to the immense amusement of various folks.

I keep getting several calls for Jalgaon. Many times it is someone trying to call a family member , and they are disappointed to get me. Then I explain the STD code to them, and some of them , who have clearly not had the benefit of CC , confide and say how so and so gave them the number, it worked when someone else dialled etc etc, but they are grateful that one is not shouted at.  They even apologize when they manage to reach me again.

Then I get these "plywood" calls. Some guys wish to know when their order is being delivered. I tried telling that I  "don't do plywood or any wood", but they then throw dates and numbers at me. Some hear when I say its me , and bashfully apologize, while others  then ask me for the correct plywood person's number!   By and large, no one abuses you. They are just confused or flummoxed .

Which takes me back to another time , in the pre cell phone days.  Somewhere in 1990.  MTNL reigned supreme, being a telephone linesman was a lucrative profession, you waited years for a  telephone , and at that time, ours was the only telephone in a building of 4 flats,  thanks to my folks transferring their phone to me on retirement .

One of my neighbors was scheduled for surgery,  there was some confusion/problem  and they came down to call the doctor. First the lady dialled. Wrong number. Then I dialled.  (I was supposed to have magic fingers; in reality it was this ability to tirelessly keep dialing till someone answered).  Again wrong number.  This went on for several minutes, till the lady at the other end asked what the problem was.  We told her the problem, the doctors name, his clinic etc,  and that we needed to explain and hear from him before the elderly patient could be moved .

Turns out, that she did know of his clinic, some numbers had changed. But she didn't know his changed number. She asked us to hold on, and sent her son to a neighbor who had the doc's card. It looked like he would take a while, so she asked us for our number!  We offered to call her again. Ten minutes later, we get a call back,not from her, but from the doc !   The patient's folks were relieved, the doc gave the instructions and everything went off fine in the subsequent days.

I don't think the lady was trained in any CC.  She probably realised we were not trained in any CC either.  She just hugely empathized with some worried folks who had an incorrect number given to them.  But she "thought out of the box" as they say,  and got in touch with the doc himself .

Such things may not happen today.  For one thing, doctors have cell phones, and they hand out the contact details to whoever they feel necessary.  Elsewhere, these are the days of trained communicators marinated in jargon. And people with fancy accents telling you to press different numbers for different services. 

These are days, where there are set ways of greeting each other in a corporate ambiance. I've often greeted folks with a namastey, the same instant that they have held their palm out to shake hands. It is fun. :-)

There are even set ways of dressing, as was brought home to me (after a lifetime of working/retiring and dressing in the Indian National Dress ) when folks went shopping for "western formals"  on acquiring their first job.

What is true of verbal communications is also true of non-verbal .  I am aware that corporate types having to work with, say Japan/Taiwan/Korea, or even Middle East folks, get special training in local communication culture. 

This form of communication is often culture centric.   And very often , those who do not have the benefit of special professional training, communicate the best.

Young children  in the house know, that when they take leave of elderly grandfolks , whether actually related or no,  they are expected to touch their feet doing namaskar. This is mostly taught  to them by example , as it was , to me , personally, by my mother.

A couple of years ago we were visiting   a family friend  , an American lady,  aged 92(or is it 94) , while on  trip to the US. This lady's son lived in India for several years, and is conversant with the cultural ethos, and we  had accompanied him to his mother's house. When it was time to leave after a very nice lunch visit, my daughter quickly bent to do namaskar to her.  The lady was literally taken aback  (she actually moved half a step back, wondering if something had fallen down).  In a reflex action of sorts, she placed her hand on the daughter's shoulder and patted her.  The message had probably gone through .  (Her son must have later explained to her the namaskar gesture by the younger to the older folks) .

I guess communication, per se,  whether verbal or nonverbal, originates in the head, but is more enjoyable, with a dollop of heart thrown in.....


Wednesday, October 03, 2012


It is intriguing to realize, how meanings and relevances of words, undergo modifications,  with the passage of time.  To spell it out in clear words, how the meaning changes as you age.

When I was in primary school in the 50's , the word SMART, brought to mind, certain Anglo Indian and Parsi class teachers, who wore these frocks and straight skirts and heels, and looked exactly like folks in Life magazine, which came home sometimes from the circulating library, my folks subscribed to.

Somewhere,  a few years later , our class had (human) "monitors", everyone aspired for that badge and the opportunity to move around class with a ruler, in the teachers absence, and if someone disobeyed you, you glared , jotted their names on a report sheet, and asked them not to act SMART !

At some point, we became aware of some of our classmates who were termed SMART, who always knew the answers, who never had to stand outside class, or on chairs, and who went into mourning when they got less than 10/10 in dictation or maths.  There were some other popular folks who actually sang well, did well in sports  et al, but no one ever thought of them as SMART. Strangely, certain disobedient types were sometimes accused of trying to be too SMART, and one realized that the word was multidimensional.

Somewhere in high school,  SMART started to have something to do with appearances, once again.  The teachers were now in sarees, sometimes resembled our mothers,  and we would secretly admire some of our classmates, who sported the same drab uniform as we did, but with so much more panache and style.   It took some ability to wear naughty boy black shoes, and walk with a sway, as if you were wearing pointed heels, and gently throw back a fringe of hair, which had escaped the Principal's strict eyes.  These were the students, who came on valedictory celebration days wearing imported Georgette sarees which hung perfectly just so, with sleeveless blouses which were frowned upon in some of our houses;  and you had to hand it to folks, who despite being blessed with the same anatomy as us,  took puberty in their stride, unlike some of us who thought   that the best way to keep things under control was to cover both shoulders with the saree palloo, an eminently UNSMART move, as it was thought of then.

College , caused a sea change.  You could be really ordinary looking, with two tight pigtails and walk with a hunch, and you could still be SMART because of your grades.  You could be someone slightly better looking but with a huge dollop of confidence, not extending to academics, and you were equally SMART.  An ability to gather surreptitious glances from folks of the opposite gender in your class  labelled you as SMART.  Being able to make excellent timely decisions with far reaching consequences (like going to med school, because you got excellent marks in the prequalifiers)  was considered SMART;  going for a basic degree in pure sciences (simply because you loved a subject), despite getting excellent marks in the prequalifiers was considered STUPID.  (I should know. Folks were aghast that I did not choose engineering. ....).      

Seventies brought in the entry of machines into our lives, and electronics reigned supreme.  SMART was all about teaching machines how to do orderly tasks, by learning languages understood by machines. Once away from the realm of  academics, SMART was all about finding your way amidst a society straining to modernize, yet pulled back  by the safety net of conservative thought. SMART was about holding a job, and advancing up. SMART was about changing fields and succeeding. SMART was about attempting entrance tests and succeeding. SMART was also about going abroad and never returning. No one was considered more FOOLISH, than those who returned from abroad  to the mother country despite having opportunities elsewhere. (Ask me, I did that :-)...).......

PC's happened, and SMART became something completely different. Machines had now become smart.  You didn't need to know tables and smartly calculate stuff  if you ran a shop. You had machines that would add up, and tell you how much change was to be returned to a customer. You had cars that spoke, maps that guided you to wherever you wanted to go, and vehicles beeped when you didn't close doors properly. You had phones without wires. You could sit in one place and click things on and off without walking a step.  Photographers and films were not needed to capture images, which you could do in front of a laptop.  SMART was all about emailing folks and forgetting the art of writing letters.  SMART was all about being really good at using these contraptions.

Till cell phones happened.   Smart Ones.  They did all kinds of things. Besides allowing people to converse audibly, that is. 

I've been overwhelmed by the sheer reach of the technology.   You can message, you can hear the radio, you can record someone , you can photograph, you can take videos, use the flashlight feature, calculate, draw,  and paint. You can also tweet, email, and surf the Internet.  You can also get lost going somewhere and find the correct place by using a feature on your phone.  You don't need friends at all, because you can simply spend hours playing all kinds of games on your phone, say while sitting in the bus, or waiting somewhere.  And you have angry birds for company. And warriors with spears charging around. Or cars whizzing by at speed. Or even sticks, balls and squares floating around trying to fit in somewhere.

This is called being SMART.  For the phone , that is.  Small children as young as 2 an 3 years, fiddle with the parents' phones, and learn . Folks proudly say their kid is a whiz at using , say, the I-phone.   I have always wondered why they didn't call it the We-phone.  

SMART is when machines have IQ's instead of you.  In my childhood, folks celebrated IQ's. Intelligence Quotients. Then the EQ's happened. Emotional Quotients.

Sometimes I think we also need to have a  SQ  or Stupidity QuotientThe ability to make a stupid mistake yourself and laugh about it.  

If you grew up when I did,  and were faced with a SMART - alecky phone,  your SQ would be non trivial.  

I tried that recently in an august gathering of blogger types. Very few actually typed.  There were all these actions with hands and fingers, similar to what we do when confronted  with a worship thali with the lamps after a puja. A kind of virtual patting of air close to the screen and lateral moving of palms and fingers.  I advertised my immense SQ by looking for an ENTER key and loudly voicing my concern, when someone very kindly offered their phone to me for use during the meet sessions.

I guess, like today's SMART phones, which boast of  well rounded edges,  I also need to be a well rounded combination of IQ,EQ, and SQ.  Why am I so concerned ?

Because, thanks to blogging a post on a lumbering huge noisy banged up keyboard on a desktop,  I just learned about having won a SMART phone in a writing competition .  I await its arrival with a great amount of trepidation and anxiety. 

In the meanwhile, a friend , who went to school even earlier than I did , sent me a perfect image to set my mind at rest......