Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rules. Ruler. Rudest .

At one time, like decades ago,  people seriously followed rules. Now the rules are flouted, sometimes by those involved in making them, and as it happened recently with a lady traffic warden in Bandra (who insisted on the rule being followed, and got hauled  up by the cops because the rule breakers had more muscle power....).

These days some four letter words actually start behaving like their idiomatic alter ego.

Like "Rule" . As a noun.

As a verb,  there is nothing much happening , unless you are the "ruler".

 And so I only worry about the noun.

I worry, because I don't think it is doing me any good to understand the "rule".

Innovative interpretation rules. Sometimes innovation includes strong disobedience.

Rules. They sent out a rule about not keeping plants in your balcony, because when you watered them, the stuff kind of dripped outside disfiguring the outside color. In a matter of 20 minutes, rule abiding family entities emptied my balcony of a bamboo plant, bougainvillea, ajwain bush, hibiscus tree, several tusli plants and a neem plant, not to mention several tomato plants and a watermelon plant which suddenly appeared from thrown peels.  Stuff was carted to the compound, and I never saw it again.  I look up, and I still see various disobedient plants daringly enjoying the breeze in various balconies. It's the sign of the times. Rule followers are stupid.

Rules. Rickshaws think they are on a well deserved picnic in our area. With kilometres of straight undulating roads, they unfailingly park on a corner of two roads, so the person taking a left turn cannot see traffic coming from the left. Honking, gesticulating and finally rolling down the window, has the fellow menacingly getting out from his seat, questioning if I owned the road, and daring me to do whatever I wish. He will not move.  He is waiting for someone, the vehicle is already hired.  I stay put. Traffic piles up behind me. Honks. He curses with the confidence of someone who has all eventualities  covered , gets out and pushes his rickshaw around the left turn by two feet. I wonder why. And continue wondering. I leave.

Rules. We are a nation that drives on the left .  Some folks think they are in the US when they drive.  As per "rules"  , you overtake from the right, and slow movers keep to the left most , usually imaginary lane (never thought there would be cheating in quality of white paint).  However, bikers, whose heads probably spin at additional rpm's when they wear a helmet, consider it their duty to always overtake from the left, even though you've been showing a left turning signal for a kilometre. So blatant is the driving, that they even drive between a bus queue and the stopped bus, and a friend of mine was injured because a biker crashed into her. Gestures to slow down or stop, from passengers disembarking from a bus, are rewarded with impatient looks , and an outrage at being made to decelerate. A fellow I questioned even angrily told me he paid taxes, and I told him that I paid taxes too, (that too, without banging my vehicle into folks), and owned as much of the road as he did.

 Rules. Why just bikers and public transport,  rules are broken again and again at the top.  We have a serious issue about womens' security, a law and order and policing problem,  there is  sniping and shooting on the western border with an enemy country,  a committee urgently deliberates on the improvement to laws and asks for suggestions, and the premier law and order entity of the country whizzes off to BanglaDesh to announce some new  improved visa regimes with that country. Despite the fact that the steady influx from BanglaDesh  to India across porous borders doesn't happen with visas. When the ability to prioritize is missing, chaos results.    

Rules. The new rule about gas cylinders, said we could have 6 cylinders a year at subsidized rates, and the remaining at enhanced rates. As a rule, it isn't clear, when they start counting.  I recently ordered a refill, and paid the unsubsidized rate of nine hundred something. When I mentioned not having utilized my six  cylinders at subsidized rates, I was told that it is 3 cylinders  for every six month period.  I was on my fourth cylinder , hence full price. You go and try visiting the dealer, and his office is packed with people and you are unable to enter. Everyone interpreting the rule their own way, the government even deciding  how I should consume my quota, regardless of whether I live in a cold climate, whether I have many family members, and other factors that affect gas consumption rates, that might actually vary during a year.  Vote bank politics has now decreed the new subsidized cylinder limit as 9. I just wonder , if these rules are simply going to give rise to a new surreptitious business of counting cylinders in a "different" way.    

Folks still go the wrong way on one-way streets, I see so many folks driving and talking with one hand stuck to their ear, nicely observable through the not so tinted glass; massive cars blatantly park at an angle, using up two parking spaces, people inside treat you like dirt when you ask them to straighten up.

 At a six lane intersection, with only one lane at right angles, and all lanes with two way traffic, a speeding rickshaw cuts finely a cm away from my toe , the driver glares and whizzes away, even though the light indicates that pedestrians may walk then; and a police chowky bang in the intersection is locked from outside, no one policing the intersection, because so many are busy catching drivers, cars , bikes and tempos, down the road.

It is normally traditional to breathe a sigh of relief when someone introduces rules .

You think life is simplified. 

No.  At least not here.

We have come to a point, that everytime there is a rule specified, an alternative system gears up to counter it, for a price.  Those that can pay, pay. At some point soneone up there, notices, and initiates one more rule to counter this.

And this continues ad nauseum, in what people call a loop.

In my younger IT working days, something getting stuck in a loop was bad news.

I guess times have changed.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The incredible meet ......

I've been to various blog meets. Some with 5 folks in 3 star hangouts, some with 200 people in 5 star places, and everything in between.

But this was different. Two  bloggers, who over the years, have become , sight unseen, great admirers of someone, who may be amongst Mumbai's leading blogging dogs, with his own blog. Of course.

Every photo tells a story.  And his just became a book.

He lives in Mumbai's most popular suburb , often called the Queen of the suburbs. The two bloggers reached a landmark, and were escorted from there by something like a pilot motorbike, which was much in the fitness of things because the head of the family where he lives, has connections to both pilots and bikes.

We entered  to an amazing welcome , of wagging tails, excitement, and a bunch of uncontrolled leaps; uncontrolled, because it was clear, that he knew who was coming, he was told earlier to go easy, but like any child who loves visitors, he kind of gave in to his impulses a few times.

Much indulgent nosing around with cool nostrils, a surreptitious lick thrown in quietly, a tentative jump to place his front legs on the blogger's shoulder,  and stretching his neck to be patted and spoken to, he would sit for a while, and then get up again , unable to contain his excitement. 

His eyes simply spoke volumes. The fellow is an excellent listener. When you said something to him, you could tell he understood. He also follows customs which would make any matriarch of any family proud.

Sits quietly by you, as you scratch his back or pat him. Teeth baring and cooing is not really his scene.  He does not threateningly hover around, smelling bags and purses. When the bloggers were offered Tilgul by the family matriarch, he may have wanted some, but did not make a song and a dance about it.

His choice of food would warm any one's heart. Chapati sabji, Kande pohe, Upma, and the like. And if you keep bread and Dosa equidistant from him, the Dosa clearly wins. No wonder his mentor in the family, is often found photographing the lovely traditional dishes cooked in his house.

While the bloggers were having a long chat,  he wandered around, went to his favourite spot in the balcony, to check out if he needed to shoo away any trespassing birds. There were some barks from somewhere outside. He answered back. The conversation continued a bit more. Maybe he told his friend ," No yaar, I cant come, we have some guests. Maybe in the evening . ...."

He has this uncanny ability to be part of the group, and listen, and participate in silent communion. Maybe he understands a lot more than things addressed to him alone. If you look into his eyes, you will agree.

The bloggers admired his natural coat, that hinted at some special DNA. Someone once made a film on 1001 of those.  And he sat quietly, under the divan, listening and probably being greatly tickled by all the praise being showered on him by the two elderly bloggers. Much like a kid, enjoying being praised for a good performance somewhere.

I think he also watches television news. Had he been able to talk and communicate , I am sure he would have made and excellent contributor, say , with Rajdeep Sardesai's discussions on CNN/IBN.

But he must make do with his expressions. Which his mentor, the family head, captures on film. And every week , they inspire a poem. Woof poetry.  

He surely had hunger pangs gnawing inside. He came out from his hiding place, as the bloggers got up to leave. Much loitering around their feet, with now, a side foray to an area where there was a tin of biscuits.  I've seen kids stamping feet and throwing their limbs around demanding sweets . Or else.  But here was this fellow, just with a hint of movement towards the tin, once in a while giving in to the impulse to leap and place front legs next o the tin, but yet, hesitating.

He has his days when he joyfully yelps, charges around, wags his tail furiously,  and thinks the house motorcycle is his enemy.  But he understands the occasion.  And  thinks in what one may say, is a very human way. 

 There were some photographs happening. One of the bloggers gave him a biscuit, which was devoured before the camera could focus.  He kind of hung around the visiting bloggers.

 Suddenly there was a flash.  And instantaneously, he barked an alert.  Someone had clicked. Flashes of  light were serious stuff.  And he had to act.  A responsible fellow, enjoying the adulation and love, but always aware of things around him.

The two bloggers waved goodbye to him, and left to go for lunch with the head of the family.

He stayed back. Grandma was alone. And he would give her company.   

The two bloggers returned home. Completely impressed and smitten.....

Friday, January 18, 2013

Requiem for a tree.....

My mother had very green fingers. She planted a coconut tree in our small garden in Pune, the year I was born.  And before I learned to spell “Kalpavruksha”,  I was living and learning coconuts. 

Like me,   green and smooth as a child, sheltered at the centre, under the generous maternal  palm leaves.  Like me, at puberty, away from the tree , an introduction to the world around. 

Being tough outside.   A rough  peeling of fake attitudes  and cleansing before learning to be useful  in the home.   The rough dried fibres  combed with a machete, like my fashionably dry hair, being combed by my mother, shaking her head, and proceeding with a great coconut oil massage.    The typical sound of a coconut being broken,  the clamour to get  a sweet sip of the coconut water.  

 The coconut  meat, shredded , sitting on a “vili”; some to be used for dal, subjees, and  chutneys, and some to extract sweetness in the form of coconut milk.  Like a busy young bitter-sweet life,  and you remained what your Mother Tree taught you.

Bath soaps  in our time were looked down upon.  Milk, Cream, or better still, Coconut milk,  mixed into a paste with Ambehaldi  , and  an ayurvedic herb like Ghavalakasri,  worked like magic.  Nothing to beat the mixed scents of a coal fired copper boiler,  and this paste slathered , rubbed and being washed off by the hot water, on a winter morning. 

A full active day in school/college,  and we would use the coir “shendis”  of the whole coconut, to clean our roughened toes and heels, and then  rub some coconut milk or even coconut oil on to them at night.  More milk for our faces.   The natural coconut fat worked itself on our skin, and fought early morning winter cycling winds for us, as we rushed for PT classes In college.

 It wasn’t really all about preserving  our, sometimes  non existent beauty.  There was a no-nonsense quality about the coconut.  Its life was not about appearing Page 3, but being comprehensively useful  to society.

Age affected the coconut tree, and sometimes the palm fronds fell off. I have seen folks sitting in the afternoons with sharp implements, and creating fine long sticks, that ultimately became a broom.   There was even some kind of oil extracted from the tough brown shell, that was used medicinally for discoloration on limbs, by older folks.   We used coconuts to honor elders, and God, breaking them in front of the latter  as a check on our egos.

I don't have a tree now,  but I have something the Parachute folks have introduced. Though I cannot understand  why they  spell "Advanced "  with an "S".

My mother gave me the unshelled coconut from “my” tree when I got married.  I still have the wrinkled shell.   Twenty five years later,  my mother passed away.    

Strangely,  the tree has never borne fruit after her , and later passed away itself.

Submitted as an entry for the Parachute Advansed Goodness Of Coconut contest
at Women's Web.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Then and Now.

Vignettes from old Pune. Of the sixties.

Everyone cycled to college.  Between 9:45 am and 10:15 am , rush hour was all about thousands of students cycling to college. Colleges had compulsory PT or Physical Training , for all students, which happened at 5:30 am.  Attendance was checked, and those bunking were denied permission to give the academic final exams.

Jackets and windbreakers were only seen in foreign movies, and early mornings in December would see us wrapped in home knitted sweaters, mufflers, monkey caps and shoes, pedalling away at 5 am, clutching ice cold cycle handles. The darkness did not worry us.  You saw similar folks somewhere along your ride, and you got approving looks from those doing their early morning trips to the Parvati Hill Temple, muttering all kinds of stotras.

Then there was the annual collegiate sports. One had the opportunity to play badminton for the college team, and these tournaments always happened in the evenings. You waited your turn to play and then to cheer your team, and it was often 11 pm when things got over. Forget mobile phones, not everyone had a landline, there were no PCO's and you didnt make or receive phone calls every few hours from home, or in turn call them.

 I remember cycling back , accompanied by some folks who had to go my way anyway. At a particular corner, I took a turn, and cycled  home, alone , without fear. My parents knew some of my teammates would be partially accompanying me, sports was considered important, and they exhibited no anxiety as they opened the door to me.

Fifty years down the line,  the daughter does the yearly 10 km Powai run, in this part of Mumbai. She tried it for fun last year, surprisingly completed in good time, and was practising this year. The route was specified by the organizers, and it involved going around the periphery of the lake , in the vicinity of which I live. She started practicing along that route to get a feel of the ups and downs.

An alternate work assignment at 6 am , meant she ran before that.  She wanted to practice and time herself on the actual route, and so she would be out by 5 am, in her tracks and tee, in considerable darkness, broken everytime a speeding truck, or car whizzed by with full lights. And sometimes, possibly a cruising slow vehicle too.   She carried her cell phone in a special contraption that attached to her arm, and some application displayed her speed, distance, time et al when she returned home.  Regardless of the fancy phone application, to me, it was a relief that she carried a phone.

It is a sign of our times, that we are clobbered with news 24 x 7 , and the final practice days  coincided with the Nirbhaya days in Delhi. And so one would be anxiously awake, trying to occupy oneself otherwise, with morning things, hoping she was not the only one running along the road. That there was a promenade around the lake that came later, was a different sort of anxiety. It was not the traffic, but possibly a population that slept there at night, who would  observe  her. You werent sure if cops were around, and you were not sure it would help.  You just hoped there were other people running too.   It did not bother her and she ran, anyway.

One would wait for a mild glimmer of light at 6 am, when she would have to reach her morning assignment. Normally she cycled there. Now she ran all the way . For practice. An occasional phone then to ascertain that she reached, would set our minds at rest.

Occasionally the phone would ring and ring. One would take a deep breath and try again. And again.  Till she answered. She would return running,  post 7:30 am, when things were different.

She had been banged into,  in her non-running, but cycling-to-work days, at 6 am, by one of those call-centre transport vans , that took an unannounced sharp turn across her, making her fall. No one stopped. But some were amused. And even then,  there were hardly any bystanders to demonstrate the Bystander effect. Or otherwise.

And  so I wonder, what kind of life we have today, in Mumbai.

Where might is right.

You sit with bated breath, as folks hang onto steps of buses, and get crushed in train compartments , en route to work. You could be driving your own vehicle and still be unsafe. Underage spoilt kids raging around in cars, and cleaners of trucks practicing their driving wildly on roads;  a so called star drives wildly killing folks on a footpath, and the judge "grants him the permission" to stay away from a court hearing, based on some facetious reason, which has to do with films, that exhibit outrageous visuals. The same star does a song and a dance at the police gymkhana annual program, in front of folks who, under normal circumstances, would travel with him to court in police vans, shackled to him. 

Anyone can say anything to anybody, throw acid, attack, and maim, if they dont like it.  Action by authorities depends on who is in power, when the elections will be, and who has connections to whom.

Instant 24 x 7 phone connectivity,  in-your-face-over-the-top indiscriminate security as a status thing for selected types, and I still dont have a sense of family security, that my parents had 50 years ago, when we kids went out. 

Sometimes I wonder.

About which direction we are heading in. And whether there exists a return path at all......  


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Banking for Dummies ?

As a child, for a long time, I used to think banks printed money, and you went and got some whenever the need arose. Then, when simple interest/compound interest  happened in school, someone explained banks to me, how they offered to keep your money, and paid you interest to use it. I used to think it was pretty decent of the banks to pay me interest to use my money, and yet,  still have it there when I needed it.

 I also learned that you could not print money at will. And there was a government mint that did that.  In those days, banks invited you to open accounts.  Staff was limited. They almost knew all the customers. I still have one such account courtesy my late mother, who, some old timers at the bank, now retired , still remember. For her ability to call a spade a spade where banking functions were concerned, and for insisting on certain clear documentation in passbooks. 

Today, banks behave as if it is all their money, and they are doing a favor by allowing us to withdraw cash.  They charge you for chequebooks, for using your own money, even though the computers now do the calculations and reconciliation.  Sadly, I find them wanting, where integrity of the data is concerned.

I am told that my pension account must exist on a single name. I can have a nominee. The bank  decrees who it can be be. That, is an intrusion into my personal space.  And one day, when I ask for a new chequebook on that account, I get one , with the name of the spouse (still in service) on each chequebook leaf. 

It takes me 3 people, and 3 repetitions of the problem, and a week, to rectify this.  Why their static/master  data should show my name as my spouse's on a single name account, has no explanation.  There is simply no data checking and verification. Or possibly, no protocol on who can see and change what data. Or possibly careless implementation of hitherto strict rules.  As I leave , I am told I must pay postage for the correct chequebook again.  Some banks have no grace at all.

For several months  one has been seeing a certain , non trivial sum being credited to one's account on the 15th of a month, and debited the next day.  When this happens a lot , I ask. (In retrospect , it might have been a great idea to study this and actually withdraw sums before they could debit. That would have woken up the folks. But then I do not accept what is not mine).

 I am told the CD for monthly transactions comes from the head office, and I should check there. I go there . Turns out, the CD is received from the municipal authorities, and pertains to monthly salaries. A perusal of the data (how it was perused, is a subject for another blog post) , with the same "amount "  and date  indicates, that someone has a similar account number to mine.  (This account which is now mine has existed since 1950, with no problems.).

The manager has no explanation, but a lot of jargon. It seems they "reverse" transactions when something like this happens.  I am alarmed that someone else other than me can debit things .  Then it turns out that the person whose salary is being credited and debited into my account is actually an account holder at an extension counter elsewhere , of this branch.  The manager has simply allocated certain numbers  from  1 to n to this extension branch. And unfortunately, not indicated that it is an account at the extension counter, with an appropriate code, different from that of his branch. 

There has been no training in codification of accounts, the various types of concatenated data that make up the key . I ask if they have a users manual for the software in use (they claim that they do not),  and the matter is resolved  by changing the account number of the municipal person appropriately.  I cannot but help wonder if some of my credits have been posted against  this person's account instead.

I check my statements. I promise them that I will be writing to the head office. They need a refresher course in codification of maybe a newer software version that highlights such discrepancies and ambiguities.  

I have spent 2 days and several hours a day solving this, and some of the old timers who now sit in FD section on the ground floor, have seen me going around, fairly agitated.  One of them stops me on the way out.  Asks me if I am my mother's daughter.  I reply in the affirmative , and he says , "You are just like your mother. She too never tolerated shoddy work" .....:-) 

I guess although my  name is now different, similarities exist.  In more than looks.  
It isn't always computers. Sometimes it is people. Sometime in the late 80's , it was required to send a large sum by telegraphic transfer. Petrol was then Rs 3.50 a litre, Rs 1000 was a huge amount. The telegraphic transfer amount , several times more, was related to a government housing loan.

They said it would reach the next day and charged me for it. It took 21 days When I asked the bank to pay me interest for "using" this amount for 21 days, when it should have reached overnight, the manager gave me a superior look , and rudely asked why I was making such a fuss. As if the amount was huge. I expect banks to treat a ten rupee interest with the same respect as a 10 lakh rupees interest.

 And I had to tell him that (a) in 21 days, even I would have reached the destination, walking backwards with eyes closed,  with the amount in a bag, and returned with a receipt, and (b) Anything above  four zeroes after a digit had me going into a dead faint.

Maybe he was used to dealing in lakhs and crores****.   As a customer, I am too small, and can be brushed off.   Hundreds were too small for him.  Nevertheless, I mentioned about banks making a living off peoples' deposits, with nothing really of their own to start with. Someone clearly had great fun with numbers for 21 days.  He didn't like that.  

Today, crores is the buzzword.  One hears of scams in banks. In crores.  Scams elsewhere, by those close to centres of power. In crores. Scams by those who idolize the wrong folks. In crores.  Scams by shameless  greedy types  siphoning of stuff meant for those with nothing.  All in thousands of crores.

Many more stories  about banking. For some other time.

I just saw this news about an individual offering Rs 1500 crores to develop the pilgrim town of Pandharpur. Something  that needs to be done. Something like simple amenities like toilets and washrooms for the Warkaris that converge in thousands  as they come to the grand finale of their pilgrimage, each year.  Something, that regrettably,  has still not been done by our government.  Busy as they are erecting statues in the Arabian Sea..

As is my habit, not being on backslapping terms with crores,  I start counting the zeros.

Till now, thanks to newspapers, I have basically associated such amounts with scams.  I mean I've heard of double digit crores spent on posh bungalows ,weddings and such stuff. But the irony is,  thanks to the massive scams unearthed, one conversely thinks, any person associated with such amounts to be a scamster.

It is such a telling fact about what we have become as people, that a donor of a big sum like this, is automatically suspected as a scamster, unless proved otherwise.....

*** 1 crore = 10 million ,  1 lakh - one hundred thousand