Sunday, December 29, 2013

Management by Sternocleidomastoid (SCM)

One has suddenly realized that there are new techniques in management and decision making.  The IIM's , IIT's and guys who write jargon filled  books haven't yet come up with new jargon.

So it has fallen upon me to define this new technique , the "sternocleidomastoid" technique, or simply SCM, to those intimidated by spelling. 

The Sternocleidomastoid or SCM is the name given to the neck muscle, that allows humans to nod and shake their heads on demand. 

The key is to realize who the demand is from.  What must always be ignored is reasoning and logic in your own  insignificant cerebral cortex.

Consider the story of  Ashok, who belonged to a reasonably well off family,  hated school, and was into various sports with a vengeance. Career planning , for him,  unlike for the hoi-polloi , was almost a genetic thing, and given his parents' clout, many folks in the building restrained themselves from shouting when he continue to break their windowpanes with his random sweeps and flicks of the seasoned cricket  ball. 

Till one day, someone who had newly moved in, simply cribbed to the building secretary. 

Foolish chap. 

It was a special building , created with the blessings of powerful folks with great synaptic connections , all upwardly mobile.  And the powerful folks kept a benevolent, and sometimes indulgent eye.

Warnings were half heartedly issued, meetings held so they could be minuted, and certain folks appointed to look into it , prepared a report. In the meanwhile,  the management folks tried to deflect the issue, by  talking about various other things. "Nature" even helped, by creating a short circuit fire in a section of the building.  That had the public mind latch on to something else. The building suddenly got new external paint, CCTV's (as is the current fashion), and solar water heaters, for certain sections. Even a watchman with a keen eye.

As expected, the Ashok report was expected to die a quiet death by ignorance.  The building committee shoved it under some hefty files.  Ashok continued his cricket. Windows  continued to crack . People continued to look out of their windows and shake their heads. 

Till one day,  this whole affair manged to reach outside the compound wall

Powerful folks heard about it. Instructions were passed, and the building secretary stopped  smiling at Ashok's father when he met him in the foyer. 

Ashok's mother got left out of the ladies' bhishi party.   

Word had it that the powerful folks felt differently.  The benevolent eye transformed into an angry glare. On a visit, by the powers,  to the building, there were declarations on how careless destruction of property would not be tolerated. 

Here is where the concept of management by SCM, or Management by Sternocleidomastoid  comes into play. 

The lowest levels have the strongest SCM. They simply use the muscles as directed and nod. Yes, no, and a vague maybe.  There are invisible rewards for using SCM correctly. 

If the problem persists,  the management by SCM goes higher.  These guys are masters of SCM. A nodded YES can mean a NO and vice versa.  Some even specialize in oblique and undefined nods. 

In what can be only called as the  Reverse Swing Sweep facet of SCM,  the powerful types, are able to reverse the entire function and meaning of the Sternocleiodmastoid muscle action

With a single public utterance.

The secretary of the building now dusts the files, extracts the Ashok report, and begins to turn the pages again.  His SCM is in reverse mode.  Nodding the head is now shaking the head. 

Breaking windows with a carelessly swept cricket ball is now once again a crime.    

No filing RTI, no going to courts, no arguing on TV channels, no caning by riot police, no nothing. 

No reasoning, no logic, no ethics, no shame. 

Just an awareness of what year it is. 

And  the amazing ability to  manipulate other people's SCM  at will, and get credit for your management skills, without being blamed for your erstwhile earlier silences.  

Anyone going to  err...  Harvard Business School to give lectures on Management by SCM ? 

Friday, December 27, 2013

BEST travels

(BEST is the acronym of the company that runs Mumbai's bus transportation)

A lifetime of driving in the worsening traffic in Mumbai, the disastrous quality of air prevalent at his face level   at traffic jams with heaving trucks spewing fumes of Diesel, and the variable leg space in 3  wheelers for a six foot plus person causing trauma to the patella,  has convinced him about the superiority of bus travel, where you travel at a height......

More so, since his age  and the color of his hair allows him the privilege of special entry into it from the front door of the bus, which means he gets to avoid the general shoving and pushing at the rear entrance used by younger folks.  The single seat right in the front of the bus, meant for senior citizens and/or differently abled folks  allows a certain level of leg stretching, and he always sits there, but gets up to offer his seat when he sees older seniors and folks with disabilities.

Maybe he doesn't look like someone who gets kicks out of free travel .  And the conductor takes his own time, making his way through the increasing crowd at the back, tapping the seats , getting folks to buy tickets,  grumbling about folks not offering change and so on.

More than half way home, and the  conductor is still way behind. He turns around, trying to catch the conductors eye, to tell him that he still has to buy his ticket. He holds a currency note in his fingers, to signal to the conductor.  The conductor can just nod, blocked as he is by the sea of passengers, actually moving in waves as the bus lurches through potholes.

Five seats behind him, another elderly gent catches his eye.  Beckons with his hand.   He gets up, bends across and passes a hundred rupee note across to the gent, mentioning the stop where he must disembark, and needs a ticket for.  The elderly gent, passes the money back, via many others, mentioning the place , which the others repeat, till it reaches the conductor.  Who looks up, then looks down, tears a ticket, punches it, and dips into his money bag to return the considerable change.

Any other time, and he would be forced to make a comment on how people needed to bring lesser denomination currency notes. It wasn't always possible to carry so much change.

 Prosperity means never having any change.

He quietly hands the ticket and the change to the man nearest him, who hands it to the man in front, who again himself does likewise.  Till it reaches the elderly gent in the middle, the guy with the initiative.   A few exchanged smiles, nods, and the man in the seat in front, has his ticket, and his change, before he reaches his point of disembarkation.

He marvels at the trust, the acknowledgement of a need to follow rules,  and the unity amongst those who decide to play their parts in this simple act to ensure that a senior citizen in the front seat  can buy his ticket. Every person who passed across the ticket and change, very carefully ensuring that no change dropped anywhere in the crowd, despite the lurches and jam packed moving human standing walls in the aisle.

At the fag end of a year that has seen more worst times than best times,  made you wonder about how low we as humans could stoop when hurting others, and made us lose trust in those who we thought were folks with good sense, shame and scruples, he suddenly feels lighter. 

There are still the good, simple everyday folks around.  Concerned about simple everyday issues.  Particular about following rules.

He gets up,  as they approach his bus stop. Moves up to the exit door. The driver beckons to him, to stand a bit behind, for his own safety.  As a responsible driver, he  must keep one eye on the side, keeping such disembarking passengers safe,  with the other eye on the horrendous evening traffic.

He waves to the driver as he gets down.

All is not lost. There is a lot of good left in this world.   It is a good feeling on which to make his way home.

He suddenly moves to one side, as a biker speeds past him, narrowly missing touching him with the handlebars.  The helmet hides the shamelessness and brazenness.

He thinks people drove better when they had nothing to hide.

He turns in at the gate. 

He has nothing to hide. Very clearly, not even the  smile at the experience in the bus.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mystery Dreams

I've often wondered about dreams. 

As in, when you sleep....

A day ago, a few hours into my 65th year on this planet,  there was a strange dream.

I was in, what appeared to be , a East European country, or may be  Germany, possibly to attend a conference of sorts.

Mind you,  this was all a bit exalted for me, as in my entire career in what is one of the nation's premier technological  institute,  my work  rarely involved going to conferences; when one was deputed to attend something, it was the type where the authorities quibbled seriously over whether to grant me rickshaw fare or taxi fare, and I ended up taking the good old trusty BEST buses or suburban local trains out of sheer disgust. 

So going to Europe for a conference , even in my dreams , was a bit rich.

And so there I was, all the signs around me were in some sort of German , and  I was walking to the venue  which was a massive old heritage palace type, now converted into a convention place.  There was a lot of nodding, bowing , smiling and hand shaking while registrations happened, and  someone,  a kind of senior functionary  introduced himself, as the convenor of the section  that I was interested in.

Cut to the next morning, and I was once again walking over to the venue .

I climbed up some stairs to the main reception area, and then went to look for the participants and convenor of the section, as well as the halls where the sessions would be conducted. What followed was hours and hours of me walking around all over the place, peeping into rooms, asking people for directions, and returning home at , say, noon, without finding anyone or anything .

Next day, I went back, and I wandered once again,but in a different area , again seeking the conference stuff that I  had come for. But once again, everyone looked different, and strangely, no one remembered me wandering from the day before. One more day of futile wandering, fatiguing me at the end of the day.

The dream suddenly moves to the International airport in Mumbai, where I am suddenly walking out with all the conference participants who were on the same flight, and they were shaking my hand and saying what a great presentation I did. There's the usual crowd around the luggage area, customs, and long walks to the exit.

I wave to someone who has come to receive me.

And the dream ends. 

They say early morning dreams sometimes come true.  I dont know whether I should be thrilled to bits about going to attend a conference in a Germanic country, or I should get worried about impending loss of memory , either on my part or someone else's part.

I wonder if the inability to recognize the place and people on the second day, was all happening in the dream, or was the dream interfacing in real time, with a sluggish actual brain refusing to jog its memory cells. 

I wonder , why everyone except me, in the dream , remembers that I did a presentation, and did it well.  

Is this a sign of things to come ? A warning sign ?  Is this information overload messing with my brain bandwidth, and causing jams in typical Mumbai traffic style?

Or may be I just had too much of the fresh winter veggie spicy pickle the previous night's dinner ?

I guess I am just glad to be back.

And yes, lest I forget, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone.....

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Run, Lata, Run.....

For many years, you wore clothes as a basic need. Sometimes,  slightly different designs and cuts to celebrate occasions , for yourself or with others. 

But never, in one's wildest imagination did one think that one was making , what is today referred to as a fashion statement.

One grew up in a no nonsense environment that encouraged exercising and sports, along with studies. The only concession made to sports outfits , was  a divided skirt for school sports and badminton , and  an everlasting red swimming suit that defied all the chemicals in the chlorinated pool. Heated pools were completely unknown, and anyone who hesitated to get into a cold pool at  , say,  a winter morning at 6 am , was simply pushed in. Acting self conscious while wearing these things was frowned upon, towelling robes were worn only in movies, and you basically got on with what you came to do.  You must understand that this was a time when frocks as uniforms elicited caustic comments from certain folks.

The pool would be filled with folks who abhorred wearing swimsuits, and landed up in shorts and tops,  self stitched swimsuit stuff with sleeves , high necks and legs (you now know where speedo got inspired from)  , and some ladies even swam in 9 yard sarees worn in an innovative way , so your legs were free , but completely  covered.  A bit like the 9 yard sarees worn by reality show dancers, koli fisher women and so on,  and one of my own abiding memories is of a tall lady wearing one of these 9 yards, executing a graceful dive, and emerging out without being smothered by fabric floating all over .  Many years later I would greatly admire a senior lady  of prosperous proportions, a very traditional minded lady , who wore this frilled swimsuit with complete nonchalance, and executed one of the smoothest dives I have seen anyone do. Turns out she spent her childhood in Varanasi, learned swimming in the Ganges, which had currents, and became an expert swimmer. It was a pleasure to watch her swim, and no one really cared about what she wore.

By and by,  many decades later , the daughter took up swimming at 7 (or is it 9) , in a red frilled swimsuit. Those were the days you wore speedos for serious swimming where you wanted to reduce the "drag" factor in the water, since timing mattered. The speedo suits were very expensive, available in limited places, and i remember waiting for a few months to see how serious the child would be about the competitive swimming (for which she trained), before investing in one. Theoretically, one could swim wonders even in frilled suits and shorts, but by now suits and caps were mandatory.

There was a time when the coach wished to have the kids swim with certain added loads, and we outfitted them with pull-on synthetic shorts available anywhere, and loaded the pockets with pebbles and stitched them up.  We also made belts were we could put known loads and tied these around the swimmer waists.

Today it is all about making sports a fashion.  There is no life without track pants, and tops , which sometimes look like sleeveless saree blouses, exposed midriff and all. Rank beginners in swimming,  arrive outfitted  with the latest in speedos, fancy expensive  goggles, caps, floats, flippers and what have you, matching towels, magic dryers, lotions, sunscreen et al.  You see guys in cricket smearing some white sunscreen stuff on their faces while playing; all this started happening after teams from other countries started doing this to keep from getting sunburnt and television started spying in closeups and stuff.  Every person doing sports has some kind of wrap around him, whether its ankles, knees, wrists or elbow, and even thighs. I just often wonder whether folks in the older days tanned less, or had better muscles.

And so it was with a great deal of pleasure that I came upon this article in the DNA newspaper, relating to a lady wearing a 9 yard traditional saree,  an immigrant working on a  farm site, who decided to run the Baramati marathon near Pune. 

No , the folks at Nike, Reebok , Puma et all do not know her at all,  neither do folks who manufacture track pants and tops, with assorted bands to tie around your hands, necks, and foreheads.  

Because she ran and won the race, wearing her normal 9 yard saree, long sleeved blouse, palloo covering her head. She ran in her slippers, till one broke, whereupon she got rid of the other and continued on to win the race.

This news report appeared in the DNA newspaper and you can read about it here.

Lata Bhagwan Kare , 61, mother of a grown up son,  works as a farm labourer, left all the "athletes" way behind within minutes of the starting, and was adjudged this year’s Fastest Marathon Runner.

Many congratulations  to this amazing gutsy lady....!

A thought just occurred.

I've been looking for outfitters to make   pull-on 9 yard sarees (pleats and tuckins and all) , which one can wear, say, like a salwar, and then organize the palloo as required . 

All the folks offer 4 varieties of 9 yard saree styles : Peshwai(Brahminical), Paramparik , Kolhapuri  and Tamashaa(Dance)  style. 

Maybe time has now come, to honor Latabai, and define a new style, the Marathon Winner 9  yard saree style .....

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The age of money

A short midmorning queue for tickets at one of the suburban railway stations in northeast Mumbai.  Recently.

There are a total of 5 windows, 2 are open.  One joins the shorter one, and within a minute rues the decision.  While the lady at the other window, sells the ticket briskly, to a suddenly never ending queue, the lady at my window, suddenly gets up, discusses something with an official at the next window (closed), and proceeds to spend the next 15 minutes, opening and closing  drawers, retrieving and receiving money from some official, and counting it , before depositing it in the aforementioned drawers. Several trains go by, people wait and shuffle from one foot to the other. Very clearly, the sudden money accounting and checking cannot happen in the ticket issuing time. The windows are officially closed periodically, with clearly announced timings, just for that. The adjoining queue continues its brisk move, and our queue is now interrupted by a few folks buying first class tickets. They are entitled to buy those at the same window, without getting into the queue.

Money talks. Officially.

A family death leading to a cremation. In 2000.   A certificate from the cremating authorities, is submitted while going out at the office near the exit.  Some knowledgeable folks, urge me to part with extra amounts like Rs 400 at the gate.  I refuse. Out of respect for the departed soul,  who would have abhorred that.  One month later, the concerned paperwork from the crematorium office  has not reached the municipal ward office, that can only then issue a death certificate.  This normally takes few days after cremation.  I threaten to visit the crematorium gate office, and question them. In the presence of other citizens who might be there.  Nobody needs a ruckus.  But I have learned one thing. And it doesn't matter if you are dead or alive.

Money continues to talk.  Unofficially.

Long ago, several decades ago, one had occasion to visit the Marriage Registration Office. Then the only one near Town Hall .  To submit an application specifying intention of getting married, and arranging to call the Registrar to a residence for the short legal ceremony.  An almost silent abandoned office, and one is keenly observed by folks who think only those running away, or facing opposition, come there to get married /invite the Registrar. Marriage registration then was not mandatory. The Registrar noted the date, signed, was escorted to and from with great respect on the appointed day.  The government then trusted its citizens.

Cut to a few weeks ago, and the office, or better still, now a branch of the original, for the suburbs,  is now an overcrowded bustling set up, with long queues, lawyers offering to get stuff done for you, for a fee.  The mandatory 1 month waiting period rule still exists.  But there are people , right now, offering you guaranteed dates of marriage  after that, for a bunch of fees of course. Which probably get shared up and down the official hierarchy.  Officials appear to be available to visit residences . For a fee.  Which makes my jaw drop. And my head reel in disgust. We are told it is an unofficial fee.  Marriage registration is now mandated by the government, many NRI types need to do visa work immediately after marriage for their spouses, and need immediate certificates, and  so this entire service is available at a premium.

Money continues to talk. Unofficially.

Those who get married with religious ceremonies, must get it certified by the presiding priest, and then apply for a marriage certificate at the above office.  Turns out there is a  long queue at the office, and some folks offer to get you a place in the queue.  You reach a bit late thanks to the permanent vagaries of Mumbai traffic. You are told your place in the queue has been missed out. Payment of a certain amount will retrieve the place.

Money continues to talk. A bit too much.  Unofficially.

And now it talks  like in the Bollywood movies.   It is the leading hero in sting operations, shown continually on our television sets.  There are villains, threats, denials, lies, and beautiful vamps. It even appears as the fourth or fifth umpire in certain ball games. 

Way back, we did not have so many educational institutions, but we had education for those who wanted  it. Today, money talks so much, and from so many towers and hi-fi rooftops , that education has become an industry. You pay, you get; you have rules , then you pay someone and defy them .

Money continues to talk. Blatantly.  And everytime the authorities make new laws and rules,  it rubs its hands in glee at the prospect of defining loopholes and breaking the laws.

There is no stage of life immune to its influence.

One is glad one grew up when one did.

Money didn't talk then. Perhaps it occasionally whispered. And swore.

But mostly ,  it simply pursed its lips and glared .     

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Life and Times of Yogabhai Tabbhai Lenovo...

I have often wondered how language, per se, came into being.  And how the language developed further, with the various words , the nuances, the inflections of voice, the acceptable variations and so on and so forth.

For many many centuries , possibly millenniums, language was restricted to communications amongst humans.

And then we decided to design languages that machines would understand.  Even then , it was English, and so many commands in those languages, matched with what you wanted to do , as understood in English (eg, Move, Add, Store etc etc). Technology moved so fast after that , that in my lifetime, we have moved from a room size mainframe, with punch card input, to PC desktops,  to laptops, to Internet on cell phones and smart watches.

This big tech jump, combined with a massive marketing effort has caused the most outrageous assault on the English  language with random words being used for even more random actions. 

I mean, burn was what happened when fire entered the scene, and not when you wrote things on a CD.  Boot was a hefty footwear, you simply wore for NCC parades, and in winter.  Pasting involved gum. Sometimes pasting was about someone getting a physical punishment.  Audacity was what you displayed when you wanted to defy or shock conservative middle aged folks. Windows were means of ventilation, and stuff you leaned out of. Desktops were where you spilt tea and coffee, displayed photos in frames, and kept 25 pens in pen holders with built-in calendars.  Those prone to crashes were bad car drivers, and your glass crockery. And hanging was related to wasting time with friends, or suspending something from somewhere, (when you were not talking about capital punishment).

Today, tablets are not what you swallow to get well. They are actually small town cousins of the aforementioned laptops.

The English language has now been truly and clearly abused with most words having multiple meanings, none of them using any logic.  I just wish Steve Jobs had invented the Mango instead of the Apple.

But wait. The Lenovo folks have now come up with the Yoga Tablet.  Aum My God !

Contrary to what simple minded types might surmise, this is not a medicine. It is a tablet computer (sometimes combined with a phone facility)  which can assume various Yoga postures .  It boggles the mind as to why then, in keeping with the distinct desi flavors, they haven't used the Pav Bhaji Android OS,   or the  GulabJam Android OS,  and the blindingly white Happydent  types want to know why Bluetooth were favoured over them, when they even offered a flashlight facility free.  And then  they even mention 2G, 3G in connectivity. All these legislative connections. I am so convinced that it is a scam.

You can buy the 8 inch or 10 inch version of this Yoga Tablet, and if you do so before Nov 24, 2013, the Lenovos are giving a bunch of stuff free, like, a sleeve cover, protective film and earphones.   

Aiyyo ! So much like buy a silk Paithani saree, and get a plastic bag, blouse piece and matching earrings free. Never mind.

Mr Shailendra Katyal, Director, Lenovo Consumer Affairs , says " "Technology is a part of who we are, therefore it needs to transition constantly to keep pace with our changing lifestyles. With this intent, we have re-engineered the Tablet from ground-up to offer users a better way to experience the Tablet. We are confident that the Yoga Tablet will redefine the category and set the stage for devices that are in sync with the evolving needs of the consumer.

Never have more truer words been said about there being a #betterway....

They keep making a big song and dance about how it has 3 postures , hold, tilt and stand.   

Now  I know.  While the Lenovo tablet may not be able to bend and touch its knees, or do things like Mayuraasan and  Ushtraasan,  it is amazing to realize how real their re engineering (from the ground up, as he says) is.

The "hold" position, believe it or not, with the amazing cylindrical edge,  is ideally designed to fan yourself in the standing-room-only Mumbai BEST bus, while simultaneously keeping your fake sleepy neighbor on the seat from leaning against you shoulder.  For those who still hanker after the days when Ghungats were supreme,  the Yoga tablet comes to life as a Ghungat with a difference. As you protect yourself with the Tablet Ghunghat , you get to click photos of the person on the other side beyond the ghungat (and then post it on Facebook to warn folks).
The "tilt"  position is a bit dicey.  Once again ,  a messing up of meaning. The tablet doesn't just do a gentle tilt; it actually tends to fall flat, with a part of it a bit raised., just like in Bhujangaasan ;  Yoga Tablet, remember ?

And like in some other aasans, it also assumes a totally horizontal attitude.  Naturally it lends itself to so many multifarious uses.  You use it to place papers on, when you need to urgently write a note to someone.  When friends suddenly land up, and it is bad manners to be caught staring at a screen, the surface provides a special unique spot to keep your plate of bhel which you have just rustled up for all. When you are lying on your stomach, there can be no greater joy, than placing your cheek against a warm screen , and hear a fan whir in your ear , taking you back to your childhood , of someone's warm palm resting on your face, and a whirring fan overhead. Yes the tilt position is dicey, but the secret can now be told.  The Lenovos want to take you back to your childhood.

There is so much Yoga to be performed standing.  And the third speciality position of this tablet is "stand" .  But unlike humans who can do tadaasan, garudaasana , ashwathaasana , Urdhva-Hastottanasana, and assorted stuff, without having anything to lean on, this Yoga tablet, cheats a bit, and has a small kick stand that keeps it standing.  

Come to think of it,  there are so many ideas the Lenovos haven't thought of.  

Like having music and piano scores on sheets replicated on these screens, and instead of keeping a music score sheet on the  piano shelf, you keep the Yoga Tab, and the page gets turned with a tap of the foot  as you continue to make music!   

Like attaching  some loops to one side , maybe the cylindrical side. Wear the Lenovo Yoga Tab as a pendant on some chunky chains.  And in a direct challenge to all those devotees of Bills, Gates ,Windows, and the displayed windows  logo, create technology that shows the outline of a red heart when the Yoga Tab pendant takes its first booting breath .  Beats all designer jewellery hollow.  And if you want to be really smart and defeat the Apple folks, how about personalizing the logo on sensing the wearer's actual heartbeat. All those folks going on and on , about  I-this and I-that, you cant get more "I" than this. 

 If loops make you feel narcissistic, attach some hooks , in the shape of question marks. Hang the tab over the front seat of the car, or bus, as you watch a great video on it from the rear seat .  Thread your trouser belt through the loops and wear it like a smart badge on your trousers. Those with wider waistlines might wear the 10 inch Yoga Tab, while slightly slimmer folks may enjoy the 8 inch Yoga Tab.  

I know you are getting terribly impressed with the things the Lenovo Yoga Tab can do.  But It isn't over yet. Because there is the alarm.

The ideal Yoga Tab would have a 3 level super intelligent alarm.  When you set the alarm for 4 am or 5 am,  you will have a choice of Gayatri Mantra ringing loudly, which if on snooze, will modify itself to "Jago, sone walon  ..."  after 5 minutes.  If you still don't get up, it will remodify to someone yelling and telling you, non stop, that you are going to miss the CST 7:57 am Central Railway doublefast

After that, the Yoga Tab , frustrated, would go into Pranayam Mode.  Buzzing, swearing, petulantly  beeping.   Making you get up. Finally.      

Actually, someone called Amit Ray once said :

Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.

Yes, sometimes the movements could be Lenovically  electronic....

(Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger-Lenovo Yoga Tablet contest)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Introducing Smart Eats, with a new OS, "Sangeeta"

(All these smart phone contraptions with jellybeans , icecreamsandwich, and kitkat OS'es .  I guess it is now time to introduce smart eats with human OS'es;  ting tong.... Sangeeta Inside !  Bye Intel)....

Come to think of it, I have been getting a lot of books and stuff by courier these days.  It has become so routine, that no one is even curious about what book it is or even curious about the package.

So it was a bit of a shock for folks, to see a box labelled SMART EATS suddenly making an appearance via courier. Very clearly these were not books.

 Several pairs of eyes lit up, with one pair of hands even willing to open the package for me immediately.  But  I waited.  I had known this was coming. My friend  Sangeeta Khanna is the nutritional advisor to the SmartEats company, and as an avid follower of her cooking and writings, I was looking forward  to what she would be recommending to the company.  And how they would be creating a finished product.

(Sangeeta has done professional rigorous research regarding antioxidants, is a nutritional and botanical expert , and believes  in various traditional aspects of our Indian regional diets, that involve seasonal greens, spices,  good fats, and ways of cooking that preserve the rich nutritional values. She also advises on diet plans for specific health conditions. )  

There were honey roasted cinnamon almonds, tangy plum fruit, fruity Caribbean cookies, walnut browne biscotti, fruity granola bars, and for all those hours you will spend in front of your TV's watching Sachin Tendulkar's final match, a packet of    yummy Jaipuri roasted mixture, to pop into your mouth, every now and then ....

When you have a swimmer in the family,  aware of nutrition et al, you have to be alert to the sudden disappearance of goodies from a box such as this. 

Nevertheless, one was at pains to clarify, that the stuff was to be reviewed, and the reviewer had to taste, and this needed to be kept in mind at all times, by hungry types.

The first to go were the honey roasted cinnamon almonds.   Could have eaten the whole packet but didn't.  Wonderfully crunchy and lightly spiced. Overall , a delightful taste . Loved these. The packet found its way to purses, refrigerators and so on. I must have had, maybe, just 3 almonds. You know who finished the rest.

The Walnut Brownie Biscotti, had just the right type of controlled sweetness, suggestion of walnut, and crunch.  And a sense of lightness. I received a few pieces of it from the powers that were holding it all.  Clearly, some folks would need to develop a taste for this, given that life is today all about creamy sugar icing resting on layers and layers of chocolate. But this stuff, was clearly something I would enjoy with say, and afternoon cup of tea. An urge to dunk it in milk and slurp, cannot be denied.

The individually packed fruity Caribbean Cashew cookies, redolent with cashews grapes and melon seeds . Cookies with a delightful sense of fruit.  Unlike cookies that crunch and crackle, these gleefully disintegrate inside , with just the right amount of sweetness. Those who dream of cookies slathered with buttery cream in rainbow colors , might find these less sweet.  But a lovely filling, snack, that doesn't overpower you, and is heart healthy, since it contains Oleic acid . Go on, have another . 


The Fruity Granola Bars were next.  A powerhouse of oats , honey and fruit and coconut.  Just ideal for chewing on the go,  and individually wrapped. Which is probably a good idea, as there is always a danger of sitting next to a jar of these (unwrapped and ready to eat) and imbibing endlessly while preoccupied with something.  There was a sort of coconut-ty taste that was predominant. It took me back to my school days when we would sometimes have a roasted peanut laddoo after school, and the taste was similar.  In the current packaging and presentation, it is the ideal thing for kids to take in their pockets while rushing out to play.   

What can one say about tangy plum fruit ? From traditional ways of preserving seasonal fruit. Keeping all the micro nutrients intact.  A great tangy snack  that can be had anytime, rich with its natural sugars.  Doesn't make you full.    So much better that sourcing fruit from cold storages, and possibly forcibly chemically ripened.  I loved this dried fruit snack. And so did the swimmer in the family. The almonds however, were still leading in the race.

And then we come to the namkeen member. Yummy jaipuri  mixture. with lots of roasted lentils, dals, nuts  , superbly spiced. Like someone in the family called it, a Chana Chor type mixture. (I think authentic Chaha Chor is rosted on sand ). 

Something that doesn't dissolve the minute you put it in your mouth (say, like Gathiya), but releases its taste as you firmly chew on the crunch. The wonderful part being, that the crunch does not come from frying in oil, but from a great dry roasting .

One of the most positive and redeeming features of this Smarteats package, was the fact that, there were no artificial flavorings or colors used. No preservatives of any kind. Local seasonal and dried fruit used for flavouring and nutritional value enhancement. Some of these snack pieces are individually wrapped  and they promise to stay good for a month.  Good natural fats , such as those in coconut used in conjunction with other substances that enhance their digestion .

The packets are often resealable  so as to keep things fresh.   Each packet lists nutritional information  for the snack.

On a personal note, I love the taste of ginger and ajwain. I would so love it if they came up with some kind of baked/roasted chip like stuff with a tongue tickling ginger taste; possibly to be eaten with a dollop of curds.  Or a namkeen biscotti (if such a thing is possible) with ajwain.

For those who are staying far away from their folks, and have no time to sit and make these things, the Smarteats folks have a scheme where they will mail you a box of assorted snacks , that change every month, for Rs  399/-  , and free shipping.  This is kind of ideal for situations where you are going to be away a lot, and want the family to enjoy a variety of healthy sweets and namkeens,  and dont want them to gorge at the neighborhood chat and samosawalla every now and then.

For the sweet stuff, you might have to develop a taste.  This stuff is mildly sweet .

And excellent.

Try it.

P. S.  My late parents were very nutritionally aware folks, and always spoke about the white poisons (white refined flour, white sugar), valueless calories, and the need to incorporate the natural tastes of fruit etc into our snacks. They would have been delighted to see Sangeeta Khanna's efforts. 

Friday, November 08, 2013

Rishis, GhasPhoos, and Immunities.....


adjective \i-ˈmyün\
: not capable of being affected by a disease
: not influenced or affected by something
: having special protection from something that is required for most people by law

All my life , i have been aware of the two meanings that are associated with the word "immune".

One , a very positive meaning having to do with your state of health.

And two; the other having to do with some folks being treated as special , possibly in a shameless way connected with power. 

While one only has to read the newspaper and watch television to see folks in the shameless category,  I have had the good fortune to be a participant and observer of the first category , almost all my life,  .

Not having lived your early life in the Internet age has its advantages. There was no ad bombardment, misguided statements on television, or  shelves full of things in supermarkets to boggle your mind. And parents in those days, depended a lot on knowledge that was handed down to them through their parents and elders. This was basically about treating food as your medicine, and enjoying it. It was also about not overdoing things. 

It was clear, that the children were the wealth of the nation, and in order that the nation prosper, it was essential that this wealth be nurtured properly keeping in my mind long term usage, and never, short term thrills.

My mother certainly didn't know what endorphins were. Neither did she agonize over glycemic index etc. All she knew , was that exercise was religion. You had to exercise to earn your breakfast.  So suryanamaskars , jumps,  were sometimes substituted with yogaasanas with my father, and sometimes with even a running climb of the Parvati hill temple near our house in Pune. And she had a firm belief that niggling things like coughs , colds, and minor digestive upsets were really about the body engine not running efficiently for lack of decent and correct fuel, and the inability to throw out waste products as exhaust.  Nothing that a decent sweat after a good exercise session couldn't cure. Between you and me, it actually works.

 Fresh hot simple food.  Full creme buffalo milk, good curds, daily fresh buttermilk churned by hand , and fresh white butter. Jowar bhakris at night straight off the griddle. Green leafy veggies eaten by us, unhappily. (We never dared refuse). Sprouts cooked in various ways. Seasonal vegetables having priority.  Festival foods remained festival foods, to be enjoyed on those days.  Hand pounded rice  (the garage had one of those pounding pits), and those days Khadi Emporium would sell  us hand pound rice .  Going to buy fruits in the main market was a weekly thing.  The crux of everything was there was no overdoing of anything. When we had the usual schoolkid's health problems, there was nothing that an infusion of tulsi couldnt solve, or some amazing things like Sitofaladi for coughs, which tasted brilliant with honey;  winter mornings would see a small bowl of pellets of a great mixture of dry ginger,turmeric, ghee and jaggery  nicely mixed, and we would have them along with our hot milk. Bread was totally persona non grata,  unless it was accompanied by a freshly stone ground chutney, and slices of vegetables between the bread pieces.

Somewhere ,  there was a belief, that a good sweaty out pouring  after a decent amount of exercise, would actually  solve a lot of  health issues. I remember running back down the Parvati hill temple as a child,  automatically deep breathing and suddenly getting my systems cleared of all the phlegm. Many decades later, a  daughter who would get frequent coughs and colds, joined an early morning fitness class as a coughing child,and it disappeared a few days later, enabling her to join a swimming beginners class, after which she has never looked back.

One of the things my mother heard about, was Chyawanpraash. 

My mother made Chyawanprash at home, from first principles. We used to know at one time so many of the names of the almost 40 herbs that went into the making along with amlas in season. Not just any amlas, but dongri amlas.  The recipe , courtesy one of my mothers's vaidya-doctor-best-friends.  Slow cooking, and the final product was amazing.  Those were not days of intense competition amongst companies, one tended to actually believe in stuff one personally supervised,  and there was often a feeling that commercial Chyawanprash had a predominantly sugary taste.  In those heady days of the 60's, we never bought commercial Chyawanprash

If Dabur were me, they would agree.

Chyawan Rishi was supposed to have invented , and prepared this and regained his youth.  I am sure that was not the main intention of Chyawanprash, and Chyawan Rishi very smartly used it as a marketing ploy, hitherto unmatched in the annals of advertising. 

But behind it all was an entire spectrum of herbs, designed to strengthen your power of facing all kinds of childhood and other diseases/health upsets. In short, building up your immunity.   

Amla, the magic fruit, with loads of Vitamin C, with a built-in preventive for its oxidation in our bodies; You name it, and the fruit has a solution: lowering cholesterol, inhibiting clumping of platelets, excellent for liver function, cleansing digestive tracts, anti ageing, eyesight , strengthening teeth and bones etc. Ashwagandha for helping you manage stresses, Pippali, for respiratory upsets so common amongst schoolkids ; Kesar, for energy and glowing skin; Guduchi, for strength, and toughening up the nerves ; Karkatshringi, which I remember being used for tough sounding coughs and seasonal colds; Bala Vidarikand for energy , and Shatavarikalp (more about this later) for mental sharpness, stamina, and improving eyesight. 

There were so many other herbs , and one may give an overall total list them here .  Bidrikand, Safed Chandan, Vasaka, Akarkara, Shatavari, Brahmi, Bilva, Choti Harr (Haritaki), Kamal Kesar, Jatamansi, Gokhru, Bel, Kachoor, Nagarmotha, Laung, Pushkarmoola, Kakadsinghi, Dashamoola, Jiwanti, Punarnava, Anjeer, Ashwagandha, Giloya, Tulsi leaves (Basil), Meetha Neem, Saunth, Munakka, Mulethi.  All boiled in a container of water where the amlas were tied in a cloth and dipped in to cook, and absorb the goodness of the herbs. The amlas would turn blackish having cooked and imbibed the herbs, and they were then deseeded and made into a smooth mixture, by pressing the pulp , via a fine white cloth, a procedure my mother used to call "vastragaaL" (वस्त्रगाळ ). The rich herb water was kept for later use, the sugar and other things, certain spices, honey, etc were ground and added. I don't remember too many details, but the whole thing resulted in an amazing Chyawanprash.

The immunity given by this amazing concoction doesnt just cater to physical immunity.  It gives you strength of mind, ability to withstand and tolerate trouble, manage stresses (which includes temper). So many times, a mental upset leads to a physical affliction . This is wellknown, and we have what are called as psychosomatic disorders. Very clearly, a regular measured imbibing of something like Chyawanprash, will, at the end of the day , idiomatically speaking, give you the power to face life , as we know it today.

Today's children face inordinate food additives, air pollution, water pollution,  antibiotic resistance, and newer and newer infections.  Today's parents, are working parents, who have little time for their children, and whatever little they have is spent in kowtowing to the wishes of the kids.  In our time , we had to finish what was served in our lunch plates, regardless of whether the sabji was a hot favourite or not.  Today , you hear indulgent women shake their heads and say things like " My family must have Coca Cola when I make Pav bhaji; they cant do without it" or " They wont eat this unless I fry it in butter " or " My family insists on red meat 3 times a week, they call rest of the vegetables in the meal,  ghaas phoos" .

This is a recipe for messing up the health of the nation's wealth.

And so , Dabur Chyawanprash, with its specially selected herbs, and readymade set of solutions, is a godsend for such parents who are pressed for time (and are not blessed with Mom's who make great Chyawanprash).  Ready to eat, as the current marketing phrase says and full of the goodness of the herbs mentioned above.

(I do have issues with introducing orange and assorted flavors in Chyawanprash. I am sure Chyawan Rishi did not foresee that.   There is something about  teaching folks to appreciate the original. We learned, and I am sure today's kids will surely learn.)  

Chyawanprash is not the sole magic potion for them. It has to be complemented, by a  decent sensible nutritious diet, plenty of exercise.

It is amazing what little kids enjoy .  Chyawanprash tastes wonderful not just when you lick spoonfulls.  It tastes great as a  roll when slathered on a chapati  , sometimes with honey too.  Shatavarikalpa  was something I have used even as a grown up and as a mother, and at one time my kids took great delight in eating shatavari kalpa chapati rolls with a bit of ghee and jaggery. Sitofaladi , always given in coughs, has been another hot favourite.   So many roasted seed chutneys taste amazing today on salads and even toast.  Eaten in decent moderation, this is an amazing way to build up immunity in children. 

 Most ayurvedic herbs, have multiple uses for us.  While ayurveda is all about providing excellent combustion facilities, with enlightened fuel for the machine that our body is,it is also about figuring out that there is some exhaust that needs to be thrown out, and  teaching/encouraging  the body to do so. 

Immunity , of the type described first is what we aspire for.  The ability to withstand disease , and if at all one falls prey to it, then the ability to emerge out of it with minimum collateral damage.

Immunity as described in the second meaning is what happens we are not up to the mark, and someone has to make special provisions for us. Excuse us from all kinds of things, possibly as a quid pro quid. It isnt something that encourages honesty .

I do so wish, there was a special Chyawanprash for the second type .......         

Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger-Dabur " An Immune India "  contest

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Life, be not proud ......

For decades together, I always thought , being alive was the default, and you only needed a certificate to prove you were dead. 

No longer so.  Has not been so, apparently for donkey's years.

Having taken voluntary retirement 9 years ago,   I am required  to certify  my "alive" status every six months, to those that generously beqeath a pension to me.

It is called a "Life Certificate".

One goes to the office, asks for the forms, and one is pointed to an area where they lie  tied up in a greatly ignored heaped splendour.  You enter your details, and get it signed by a person of approved seniority. I mean you are there in flesh and blood, walking, talking, in your senses, and so on,  but the 5 folks amidst whose desks you wander cannot certify that you are alive.  

And so ,I walk into  an office cabin, where someone with the appropriate seniority sits,  hold up the sheet, and  smile and say " Certificate that I am alive!" .   The needful is done amidst much smiling, the paper returned to another heap, and I am done for another six months.

Some people must do this at banks, where their pension is deposited, since they stay possibly in another city away from their erstwhile working places.

There is a nationalized bank branch in Pune, where my late father had his pension account. This particular branch was like a pensioners' haven  in the first few days of each month, with various folks, some shuffling with canes, some hard of hearing, some with failing eyesights, and some fit enough to shame obese young bikers, would congregate.

Whenever the staff had to guide someone about something regarding paperwork/signatures et al, they had to speak in a loud voice since so many had hearing problems, and they would  then themselves answer back in a loud ringing voice, to the immense amusement of other customers of the bank.  I handled my father's things in his last few months,  and one of the staff even cribbed  and said how stubborn these folks are and how they refuse to listen to things; how they fire the bank for not showing their deposits and simply forget that they had already withdrawn something; and how they simply nod and wave their hands when reminded about adding a nomination to their account .

 But it was nice to see the younger staff going around attending to the Ajobas , Ajis and Kakas, and being patiently respectful with them.   

Turns out that if your pension account has accumulated  without withdrawls for , say 3 months, the bank investigates why. After a while the amount gets credited to the nation's treasury.  I am talking about the situation alomost 9 years ago. Rules might have changed.

I was asked to see the manager. My father was bedridden but alert, and I was advised that one could ask for bank staff to come home , and have a withdrawl slip signed/thumbprint taken, and duly certified and stamped by the bank staff.  You provided transport to the bank people. So I wrote in an application, and was asked to come to the bank in the afternoon  to escort the staff to our home.

I arrive in  an autorickshaw.  I am surprised to see a manager type getting ready to accompany me  to our house, 5 minutes away by vehicle.

My father is happy to see the bank come to him, and goes through the various signing/thumbprint stuff. His hand shakes and his signature might not match.  The bank certifies.

We get up, and get ready to leave. The aforementioned staff looks around the house as we reach the front door.  As we turn on to the last set of steps leading down to the ground  floor, he looks at me and says , "Have you thought about renting this place ? The bank would be interested  for its officers ..."

I try to control my temper.  I must escort him back to the bank, where the documents he carries will reflect that a withdrawl was effected , indicating movement in the pension account.

And then , I look up at him, and look him in the eye, and say , "You know , my father  lives here......."     

Yes. It is complicated.

This effort of proving that one is alive.   In a blatant thoughtless world , where death is the default.  Death of empathy, understanding and good sense.  

P. S.  The bank just lost two accounts of mine.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

The Name Game....

Our attitudes towards names, is , to say the least,  intriguing and even confusing.

It is even a function of time.  In personal and public spaces.

In Maharashtra, in the personal space, we all bear complete names made up of our given name, then father's name and then surname/last name.  After marriage , the father's name and last name gets replaced by the husband's name and last name.  When i first ventured into what was IT 40 years ago, and did programming, I always thought that this system , with appropriate linkages, would display amazing family trees and the evolution of various families. I knew it was not  that simple, but possible.

Then women started keeping their maiden names and just appending the husband's last name, sometimes with a hyphen, and sometimes without. That too made sense. It may have raised a few eyebrows.  But it also elicited a few hurrahs.

Legally, it is not necessary for anyone to change names.  X and Y can be married to each other and still keep their names.  But its bothers folks with attitude, in places like government registration offices,  passport offices , ration card offices and so on and they often complicate matters by insisting on extra odd paperwork.

In public spaces, things go pretty much haywire.  Changing names in public spaces , is steeped in political patronage, vote mongering , and money.

While scant attention is paid in Mumbai , to arterial roads being constructed, and the subsequent rehabilitation of displaced folks and commercial entities, those on the fringes of power often get agitated over the naming of these places. Chhatrapati Shivaji, the various Gandhis, and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar are almost always the leading choices.  Sometimes, local and state leaders manage to  win , but it is always more about satisfying a vote bank rather than honoring the departed great soul.

Despite the massive renaming of roads and squares , as is evident from the destination boards on Mumbai's iconic BEST buses,  people still refer to the various roads, by their original names.  I doubt if folks know the new names of Pedder Road, (Gopalrao Deshmukh Marg) ,  or Marine Drive  (Netaji Subhash Chadra Marg) , or Nagar Chowk (Boribunder).  Such is the desperation to  rename  roads that towards the end of the last century, the Municipal Corporation had actually renamed 2500 roads and squares in a 3 year period. While the government passed a rule allowing renaming of places that carried names of pre independence British rulers in 1950,  today there is a renaming spree happening.   The famous Laburnum road in Gamdevi was in danger of being renamed, as someone thought it was a British Officer's name, till someone pointed out at the eleventh hour, that it was named after the profuse laburnum trees that made the road special. There was a Ropewalk lane in Fort, named so because in earlier days, ropes were supplied to the ships in the dock (by the Fort Officials) , and the rope makers would use this lane to stretch the jute fibres.  Today this piece of urban history has been celestially wiped out; the road is now known as Saibaba Lane.                 

The sad part is when names are changed due to money power.

Long ago in my childhood in Pune, there were a bunch of very well regarded schools for both girls and boys, in various localities named after a person called Bhave. I had friends who attended these schools, I had relatives who taught there for years. My late mother once told me that the Mr Bhave after whom these schools were named, was a very dedicated, hardworking, not very financially well off teacher,  who brought up these institutions from scratch.

Sometime in the last few decades of the last century, there was a donation to those schools,  from a very well known industrialist family in memory of the family matriarch.  The old man was relinquished to history, and all the schools were now renamed after the matriarch of the donor family.   A lot of us were saddened by this. But i guess this was a sign of the times to come.

Today, almost all naming of public places has immense political overtones, deals, quid-pro-quids , rather than a sense of gratitude.  

There has always been something in the news about renaming universities.   Nothing much is said or publicised about the infrastructural facilities, the standards, etc at these universities.  Most such renamings are politically motivated.  

The latest is about renaming Pune University after the late Savitribai Phule, who  besides being a freedom fighter, was instrumental in ensuring and making possible, education for women. While I have the greatest respect for Dynaanjyoti Savitribai Phule, I have always felt, that instead of just renaming, it would make more sense, if the government offered funds, and prime land,  for a state of the art  Women's University named after her.  This would necessarily include, besides various colleges and disciplines,  schools for girls in rural areas, with free education and mentoring. Such a University would have the freedom to grow according to its needs, and not within the rules incumbent on an old university.

Unfortunately,  we live in times where everyone wants quick returns.  Votes, prestige, social standing, and many times, revenue.

I wonder why we do not rename jails . The Arthur Rd jail in Mumbai, presumably named after a Britisher, could be renamed . So could Tihar Jail in New Delhi. All have seen star prisoners. There are even other regional jails  in various states, where powerful types are currently domiciled.  But this is a catch 22 situation.  As a politician , you may be at the forefront naming the jail, after its distinguished resident(s) , only to be in a scam later and inhabit it yourself.

I wonder why we do not name the numerous flyovers that we desperately construct.   It would shame those who participate in shoddy constructions  in connivance with unnamed others,  once the potholes, and breakdowns start happening.

I wonder why we do not name the huge official municipal garbage dumps after people.

I wonder how the recently opened Eastern Freeway offering a fast North South connection on Mumbai's eastern seaboard, has escaped a naming controversy ? On second thoughts, has it ?  

But then I think back to the various small local temples,  that dot the original city of Pune, the city of my childhood.  They bear names like Khunyaa (Murderer) Murlidhar , Patryaa (leaf-like) Maruti, ChimNyaa (tiny ) Ganpati, Sonya MarutiHatti (elephant)Ganpati., Garud (eagle) Ganpati, Jilbyaa (fond of jilebis, a sweet food item) Maruti; all names indicating some kind of backslapping familiarity of the locals, vis-a-vis these gods. None of these names, are respectful; on the other hand the names are indulgent.  I wouldn't be too thrilled to be referred to as Khunyaa (murderer).

 The dedication to the Gods continues  regardless of these indulgent , often shocking names.   No one has ever tried to change these names, and no builder has ever dared to rehabilitate these small temples , which are now in the prime city area.

I wonder why .

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A Traditional and Natural Me :-)

While I clearly, do not have any memories of actually being born and attended to, say , in the first few years of my life, I have a conviction that folks in my house approached modern science from a very sturdy unshakable base of traditional knowledge. 

Looking at things today, more than 60 years later, it feels like I have grown up in a different age.  All the multinationals with their fibs and  lies  regarding faces, fairness, hair, silkiness et all had not yet then  looked at India, Tata's sold an oil shampoo in a most unimaginatively designed bottle, there was no TV, and no one would have filmed my travails and tangles with Shikekai hair washing, even if I had paid them. 

 Tradition was all about doing 30 suryanamaskars and 300 jumps, before you could even sight your breakfast, and never mind that the Sun had invocations for only 12 of them. You could always repeat the invocations :-)   .    It never made a difference if you were a girl. You were probably expected to do them better than your brother

We drank shudh milk. Tea and Bread was persona non grata.  Fresh mung dal khichadi (green chhilka), a spoon of homemade ghee, roasted poha papad, and freshly squeezed orange juice was what we had .  Sometimes we had buttermilk.  Soaps were around, but the mixture of choice while taking baths, was besan and ambehaldi mixed with fresh milk cream, slathered on, and washed off. Vicco fellows were around , but they made only tooth powder then, and turmeric creams didn't exist. Turns out that Dabur introduced the Lal Dantmanjan in 1970, else we would have been using that too.

We ate hand pounded rice, while everyone went ballistic on bright white local Ambemohor rice (that's where I got my aversion to Fair and Lovely :-)), and cribbed that the grains broke while pounding by hand. Cold pressed oil from the Ghanis was easily available then, and there was a permanent assembly line of milk products such as curds,buttermilk,white butter, and ghee , being prepared, in that order.  Seasonal fruit drinks like mango panha, kokum juice, were available in plenty, and although Coca Cola existed,  it was not available on our screens.

Some of my mother's closest friends were 2 sisters, one a Gynaec MD (alloptahic), and one a Vaidya MD Ayurveda. They introduced my mother to the actual recipe for ChyawanPrash from first principles.  This resulted in my brother and I, cleaning and pounding in the balcony, tons of special herbs with complicated names and flavors,  and stuff during school holidays, sometimes joined by friends, my mother sourcing the exact variety of amlas ("dongri" and not the fat juice laden ones), and all of it coming together in a  massive vessel which ended up slowly cooking stuff and being gently stirred, on a coal sigdi in the kitchen.  This Chyawanprash, duly approved by the Vaidya,  was lapped up not only by us, but was in great demand  from relatives and friends, who were duly gifted stuff in special jars every season.  Yes, I know Dabur launched Chyawanprash the year I was born, but I still swear by my mother's  Chyawanprash. 

Health conditions had traditional solutions too.  While a kaadhaa was the standard concoction for coughs and colds, with the dreaded taking-of-the-steam-with-a-towel-on-our-head,  there was a concoction with dried ginger, jaggery, nutmeg and some other ingredients cooked in a cast iron thick vessel, that we were given whenever we had stomach problems. This was so delicious , that we looked forward to someone else having digestion problems at times.  The most disgusting, horrible looking thing , however, was something called poultice, which was heated and prepared using flour, turmeric etc , in the aforementioned cast iron vessel, and applied when hot,  on scraped, cut, and injured knees etc, and wrapped in a bandage; we went off to school, amidst a sometimes unravelling bandage, emerging gooey stuff, and an entire set of classmates pointing at you. There were various oils in my mother's cupboard, and they were judiciously used depending on whether a chest was filling up with mucus, a headache was looming, or some unavoidable growing pains were happening in the lower limbs. Many years later i actually expressed surprise that linseed oil of my childhood was being applied to cricket bats. 

By the time I had my own children, the style of having a special darkened lactating /just-delivered mother's room had disappeared thanks to expensive real estate, and disappearing joint families.  But the standard traditional care for the newborn and the  mother was very much there.  

And so there was an old experienced lady who came by every day, completely cognizant of the fact that both mother and child have had a tumultuous birthing experience; the mother , with her body and mind yet to settle down after a physically traumatic yet happy event , and the child, getting adjusted to the brave new world  which was probably overpowering its senses.  There was a dedicated massage for the baby, with special attention to the fontanel on the scalp, and the limbs, being careful around the navel, still smarting from the umbilical cut.  There was a huge metal dish shaped container with lit charcoal, on which certain herbs were strewn, which on sublimation, generated some medicinal smoke. Inhalation of this was beneficial to the still coming-to-terms respiratory and digestive systems of the child.  The massage for the mother involved different actions for different parts of the body,  and actually served  to bring together again, all those physical and mental entities, that had worked overtime and were kind of scattered and fatigued post delivery.  Even the bathing had a system. Food was light, nutritious, and designed to benefit the baby, while shoring up the resources of the mother.   

Today, times have changed, and it is difficult for people to source such expert massage ladies and even the various Ayurvedic herbs that are used. Small crowded residences do not make it easy to have special dedicated rooms for all the activities of the mother and child.  Except, maybe in smaller towns and cities, where distances are shorter, people have more time, and there are more human resources available.

And so it makes sense for those having expertise, to make available oils and stuff that already have within them the ingredients. As they say "Sanskarit Oil". Dabur has amongst its many products the Lal Tail which contains Till Tail, Ratanjyot, Shankha Pushpi, Camphor and Urad. All designed to improve blood circulation, sleep, nourish muscles and bones, and prevent skin infections.  Those, worldwide,  researching neonates and their health, have found that this massage aids greatly in the way the child handles stress , and the associated hormones.  

Today's generation  is spoilt for choice. Every health condition or beauty query leads to a massive set of products that offer solutions.  Many look nice and attractive, but often contain harmful chemicals that mislead you with the foaming and smell and feel.  There are products available in the unorganized sector , that have a blatant disregard for quality and include  harmful ingredients in non trivial amounts.  And there is a pill for every minor health skirmish, when actually, some change of habits and sensible food would suffice.  

All kinds of massages and facials are touted as beauty treatments with outlandish costs. Diet is designed and recommended so that you are in competition with size zero beautiful filmy folks, and folks attach undue importance to the shape of their teeth and size of their nose, losing all their individuality, as they get sculpted plastically.  

When you get to be my age (64)  you realize that it is better to have a natural growth, with a decent traditional diet and habits which are in constructive interference with your environment , age and genetic tendencies.  And so you look back to traditional solutions to health, food and stress-relieving.

There are often stories about magical massages ; and I didn't believe many, till I was told this story about a person, who I know very well, and who himself confirmed this story.

 A relative , who is shortly turning 80, was born with a foot deformity. I do not know what it is called, but his toes would curl in and touch his heels. His mother, then at her parents' in Pune, post her delivery, was urged by folks to visit a very well known ayurevdic masseur-gentleman who was popularly known as Maharaaj Limaye, who had many successes to his credit. She did visit him with the baby , for many sessions, and by and by , he taught her the specific massage with the oil to be done for the child daily, since she didn't normally live in Pune and would soon be returning to her marital home in Gujarat. She continued to do the massage as directed, and the child's deformity was totally cured before the year was out. I was told about this by the mother herself.

(It might be interesting to know that the descendants of Maharaj Limaye, also imbibed the art and technique of doing this special oil massage. They were all educated folks like lawyers etc, and their father had told them, that this special gift of being able to give successful massage , was a social service, and was not to be used as a livelihood profession.  The various members would return from a full day at court , and then attend to long lines of people waiting to see them for the massage.)

And so, it is not just about the massage techniques, or the secret uniqueness of the oil. It is about having the correct mental approach, the dedication , the expertise, and a gratitude and respect for one's special gifts.

Physical and mental health in complete equilibrium with each other.   What Ayurveda is all about.

(submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger -Traditional Knowledge-Natural Growth contest.) 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Ancient wisdom, modern words

Having lived through a period when  the highlight of any Suraksha Tips given  to anyone, was "Dont talk to strangers" and "Get home before dark"  (50 years ago),  and then lived through a period of women emerging to work, and commute, where you wore fake gold mangalsutras and necklaces in crowded trains populated by expert chain snatchers,  it is very disappointing to see what we have come to in 2014.

I have known cases where a chain snatcher snatched a chain , which was fake, and then returned to the same spot the next day, to slap the lady returning from her job, berating her for wearing imitation jewellery.

At such times, it is better to err on the side of caution when deciding what care one must take for one's own security.

1.  Whenever you are travelling alone, do not accept  anything to drink or eat  from someone sitting alongside.  I've known of folks who fell quietly into a dead faint and had everything stolen including their muscle strength (due to the drug used).

2.  Carry a pepper spray in your handbag or purse. Red chilly powder also works.  A folding umbrella that opens at the click of a button is also useful. Umbrellas have been used as weapons by the women of Mumbai for donkey's years.  Blowing up something in a person's face gives you time. Possibly to get the pepper spray ready.  If you are trained self defence, even better.

3.  Ignore odd men and women who stop you to ask about addresses, and tell you that you dropped a hundred rupee note. Move on. They sometimes have accomplices .

4.  Rickshaws are the most common mode of quick transport in Mumbai.  If you are alone, sit to one side in the ricksha. And make a call (or at least appear to make one) to someone, saying how long you would be. Ensure you ask the driver loudly how long it will take to reach your destination and mention it to whoever on the phone.  Also mention the licence plate number. It is often written in white on the passenger side behind the driver's seat.  Make frequent calls and pretend to asnwer calls about where you have reached.  

5. Get out of any rickshaw, if a fellow joins up sitting with the driver in front. Tell him to get off, or get off yourself and talk loudly . Make sure you do this in a commercial area with shops around. You can always rush nearby to one.

6.  Always have some smart application like Smart Suraksha on your phone screen visible to you , when walking down a deserted road. (before i read about Smart Suraksha, I had on my phone two applications that, on pressing a screen button,  blew piercing police whistles and a siren respectively, very loudly. People even came in from the next room when i tested it.)  Do not be preoccupied texting or checking things on your phone. Most important, get those earplugs out of your ears.  You need to be aware of sounds around you.

7.   Do NOT  exchange personal details on social networking sites.  The current generation of youth has some convoluted ideas about what it means to be popular/important etc .  If you are the parent of a young man or woman , keep track of their activities, late calls and stuff. You are not in it for popularity, so be strict about things, and tell folks off when you think things are going too far. 

8.  When travelling in a elevator without an attendant, ensure you travel in a crowd.

9.  Install metal grill doors at your entrance, in addition to your normal doors.  Courier stuff etc can be handled through that, avoiding the risk of opening up your house to unknown types. Many people , can hoodwink security, and land up, under the guise of religious donations, delivery of items, asking for addresses.

10. Last but not least, dress appropriately at all times. There is a school of thought that says "I must have the freedom to dress as I please".  The same folks who espouse that, may be seen in a Church or Siddhivinayak temple in normal everyday clothes, heads covered and all that.  Why not avoid situations, where you are watched in a rear view mirror because  what you are wearing is attracting attention ?  Wear stuff in which it is easy to move; I am not saying wear hotpants instead of salwars; I know someone wearing nine yards who put the fear of God into a couple of troublemakers.   If you wear heels as part of your office wear, change to flats before you leave, to encourage quick and safe movement.

There is of course, always, safety in numbers.  But it is also about being alert, aware of the environment in which you are,  and not getting addicted to one of the most useful but troublesome contraptions of our times : cell phone games, and music with ears blocked shut.

Just wondering if anyone agrees, and how many might possibly be seething in anger at point no 10.

Ah well, at my age, I am like that only......

I am sharing my Smart Suraksha Tips at in association with Smart Suraksha App