Thursday, June 27, 2013

Understanding PMS : it's not what you think......

(The monsoons have set in properly in Mumbai, and one of the things that makes the otherwise lovely season troublesome and traumatic are the potholes that are a permanent feature of most roads, old and particularly new, and the flooding of roads thanks to the abysmal municipal services related to roads, trash collection and repairs every year. The attitude of the powers, the blatant ignoring of citizens, and the general ethos  of those that purport to rule and manage, and the politics of it all, sometimes gives you a different understanding and view...and just sometimes, a sense of black humor...) 
A couple of days ago, a rainy misty diesel and petrol laden evening in Mumbai, saw a massive traffic snarl or jam, on a major road  leading to a World Bank aided, East West arterial road of 10.6 kilometres in North Mumbai.  Vehicles that normally covered the distance from a suburb to this arterial road in 15 minutes , now stood stationery, and managed it in 1 hour and 15 minutes.  Those in open vehicles like 3 wheeler autos, and bikes,  ended up inhaling concentrated diesel fumes from trucks sneezing alongside.

 Turns out that a huge pothole had developed in front of a major club on this arterial road, it was filled with water and junk , which had spread across the road, and traffic had slowed down.  And even come to a standstill. 

 Did this pothole happen overnight ? No.  Did no one notice it earlier ? I guess folks just kept quiet.  Was anything done about this ? No.  Was it rocket science to cordon off the spot, and do some basic filling before things got out of hand ?  Probably. Because nothing was done.


No. It isn't what you think.  I am way beyond that.  We are not talking of any syndromes and stuff.

But this is PMS or the Pothole Management System.

Which is not to say that potholes, and or their management  on the roads on Mumbai did not exist before.  On second thoughts, the potholes were always there, I am just not sure about the management.   But now that it is downright insulting in this day and age, in the 21st century, not to have computerized anything , the powers that be decided to computerize the pothole management. Hence the PMS.

Folks were supposed to upload pictures of potholes, and the authorities were supposed to rush and fill them. And maybe put up a picture of the filled pothole , I don't know. 

What no one realized was  the in-between steps.

Because there are many facets to this .  And stupid me, I simply wallowed in my monsoon ignorance.

First of all it was impossible to click pictures of the pothole, with the vehicles covering it, and the rest of them splashing muddy water  on whoever was clicking.

Whenever there is a calamity, and never mind the magnitude,  the management never rushes in , in a hurry.  That is done by the roadside folks, sometimes by some concerned cops, and sometimes by folks whose vehicles are stuck and stranded there.

You must identify the pothole place.  Then the municipal ward. You then figure out whether it is represented by a ruling party person or someone else, and decide your official attitude (OA).

The big bosses , sometimes also the leading lights , then decide to come on a fact finding mission.  Beaconed cars might be requisitioned.  Led by some police jeeps, and followed by police jeeps, a first aid vehicle in addition, in case one of the worthies twists a limb trying to step here and there. Traffic police cordon off areas with flimsy red and white ribbons, empty tar drums, and recently found manhole covers from some other place. Stationing a mini concrete mixer there is supposed to be the height of creativity.

 Of course there are also folks from friendly media , who take close ups of great folks looking suitably serious , traumatized, and  peering through windows as assistants point out the problems, even getting 2 square centimetres of their exalted footwear dirty near the aforesaid pothole, as they bravely step out of their special vehicles.  An entire gaggle of folks with hands clasped at the back, walk around pointing at things.

The plan of action is decided one day later.  Trusted contractors are contacted.  Someone who has clicked the pothole on this official trip quietly uploads it on the PMS.   Staff is yanked away from some other pothole filling site, and allocated to this one. There is a safari suited guy holding a diary amidst all the workers. Ensuring the "mix" of the filling. And he is constantly on the phone.

By and by the work is done.  Several municipal vehicles arrive every now and then  depositing fellows who come and have a look, speak on phones and nod.  The cordoning off is still on.  Various large vans act pushy wild in their 4-wheel attitude, as the road narrows, and scrape past little Nanos and Santros .

The following day sees a set of trucks and tempos arriving with bamboos, tarpaulins and rope. A pandal is to be erected.   A stage, a bunch of red velvet chairs. A couple of banners ; sorry several banners proclaiming the everlasting gratitude  of party functionaries towards the powerful satraps.

Folks in abnormal spotless white terribly at variance with what is perceived by the hoi polloi. Microphones, speeches, applause. Cutting of ribbons around the pothole.  Actually, some worthy will inaugurate the hopeful absence of something : a pothole.

Tea. Marie biscuits. Samosas.

It rains cats and dogs outside the pandal.  Someone takes a photograph of he pothole, only to realize that it isn't there. A patch of cement in closeup is clicked. Uploaded on PMS. No one will ever know.

By and by the power folks return to their life of eternal sanctioning of things in the office. The pandal is dismantled.  Next day, the traffic zooms across the said road, over the aforesaid pothole area,  kind of hurting the cement molecules.

For the pothole, the holiday is over.  It is time to face the music...err rain,junk,and screeching rubber tyres, heaving under the weight of trucks and cars.     

I am just curious about one thing.

This arterial road, widely praised and cursed at the same time, is still called the Link road defined by its origin and destination.    Strangely , one doesn't see a political tussle going on about naming this road.  After someone exalted .  After whom so many things are named in Mumbai.

Surprising. And kind of sad.

I was hoping they would have a grand naming ceremony . I would have tolerated all the cordoning of roads, pandals, and blinding banners . The powerful types would cut a ribbon and drive across the entire 10.6 kilometres  without any peaks and troughs.

Because someone, would have, by  then fixed ALL the potholes on this road , at least for this season.

And then I would drive home, on another rainy misty evening.  Turn on to the arterial road.  Enjoying the green that dots part of its landscape, and the blue of the water that happens later.

I want to cross my fingers, but I cant, as I am driving.  Would have loved to touch wood too. A bit difficult inside the car.

Hmm. Figures. 



Monday, June 24, 2013

In Death : The Gift of Life

We are a strange people.

We are born with stuff,  our DNA, and the Almighty gives us.  Then we spend a lifetime, trying to improve upon the original, because someone somewhere keeps bombarding us with  methods of improvement , so we can fall in line with what someone else  decides , is the norm. So many go under the knife to change their God given attributes to man defined standards, with the least concern for the cutting, stitching and chemical treatments.

 It isn't that you couldn't breathe, but noses suddenly look straighter;  your hearty laugh is now augmented by a man-made dimple, and a worried forehead suddenly looks smoother, with the worries intact. And renovations below the neck are simply too many to enumerate.

It's all about taking in and grabbing for yourself. For someone that prefers to install all kinds of chemicals and structures in the body to enhance appearance, you make yourself scarce around blood donation events, even though they happen with the best facilities and most scientific methods and care, because who knows what is on the tip of the disposable needle?  Similar to the one they used to give you Botox ? Never mind. The sight of blood stuns you, and the idea of giving it to someone else impoverishes you. Someone tells you you need to take leave for 3 days after blood donations (to recoup your precious blood) and you believe that and excuse yourself, despite knowing someone who went to work directly from the blood donation camp. Never mind.

We continue this even in death, by abhorring and spreading myths about things like eye donations, and skin donations.

Yes, we are a strange people. Particularly my generation. Because we have too many facetious choices and we abuse them.

The older generation to mine, lived differently.  They accepted the way they were born and made the best of it. They were comfortable in their own skins. When society changed, they judiciously  partook of somethings that would benefit them, and would be useful for future generations. Unlike us,  they did not run after the herd. They had an ability to ignore superficial and facetious changes. The entire spectrum of societal change across which they lived their lives was mind boggling.  And they had an amazing ability to pick and choose that which would enable future generations.

Like my parents, who introduced us to the concept of blood donation as students. We knew and observed the various safeguards, and learned to donate at camps conducted under the most rigorous and safe conditions, without getting hyper about things.  Today , my children , donate blood, according to specified rules, in consultation with our family doctor, almost every year or more.  

Like an aunt of mine who recently passed away. Her husband was an educationist and professor who taught college for years in one of the smaller towns in Maharashtra. He passed away when her 3 daughters were very young, and she soon shifted to Pune to be amidst relatives and  ensure a good education and opportunities for the daughters. Her strength was her belief in her self and the values she had. She faced all kinds of calamities like the Pune floods in 1961 when the Panshet Dam burst, and water came rushing in torrents to her doorstep and inside. Except for the youngest, the other daughters were at school, and unable to reach home. She handled this all alone.  The daughters were all academically excellent, and she encouraged them in their postgraduate studies in the face of advice from some that told her that she was missing out on good marriage prospects for her daughters.  This was not easy in those days.  It so happened that all 3 of her daughters today excel in their chosen professions, and have found their own life partners. She was a proud mother in her old age, watching her daughters, one a gynaecologist, another a chartered accountant with her own practice and another who is a doctorate and works with a leading NGO. All happily encouraged by their respective husbands.

The older generation had a great sense of importance about giving.  You celebrated your own sense of well being and comfort by ensuring that you changed lives of a few by helping those in need. With medical help. With fees. With the cost of textbooks and implements they needed. With recommendations to others.

She was bedridden for a few months, mentally very active though physically not so good. Last week , one early morning, she quietly faded away, leaving 3 distraught girls.  In the midst of their sorrow, they remembered to do something their mother would have appreciated.

They donated her eyes to an Eye Bank, and skin portions to a Skin Bank. 

This post is being written, not just to applaud this, but to highlight and emphasize, to those that are interested, the technicalities.

There  is no disfigurement of the departed.  You must call the authorities within 6 hours of the death.  I have myself had this experience when we had occasion to donate he eyes of my late parents and in laws.

The personnel  come very respectfully with their implements and stuff in a bag. They work behind closed doors for a short time, and  walk out again, quietly, getting you to fill the donor's details on a form. When you see the departed person again,  there is no sign of any surgery etc.

I now understand that skin banks operate much the same way. The medical personnel arrive , and work behind closed doors.  Whatever skin excisions are done, are perfectly bandaged , and are often under areas covered normally by the clothes.

It isn't just enough to sign forms  in your lifetime to declare your intentions. You must sensitize your offspring regarding that.  So that , even in traumatic family times, these wishes are remembered.  If the donation happens in the premises of a very large general hospital as happened in my late mother's case, it is possible, that a needy person shortly gets the gift of sight.  (We were informed about this, by letter, a few days later, without breaking any confidentialities).

Eye banks have been around for a long time, but skin banks are a more recent phenomenon.  Dr Madhuri Gore, then Head of Surgery and specializing in burns treatments  at the LTMG Hospital in Mumbai, started the first Skin Bank . There is now another one in Pune at Surya Hospital.  So many lives of unfortunate women  burn victims, and accident victims have been saved because of the availability of skin banks.

Efforts are now on, so that families of the departed can now call a single number (instead of keeping track of separate agencies) and donate.                 

 I wish some corporates as part of their CSR,  arrange to show stuff on television, small clips about blood and organ donation, on a regular basis to educate and sensitize folks. 

I know it is difficult, in the face of Fair, Lovely, White, Straight, Soft , Silky, Good-smelling, fast driving, roaring  stuff, that we are bombarded with day in and day out.

But giving someone unfortunate a new useful life, would be the ultimate tribute to someone who has left you after teaching you so much ......    


Thursday, June 06, 2013

iCALL, uTALK , weHELP.....

50 years ago, we had never heard of "counseling". 

Because it was an integral part of the way we lived.  Where not just the family but extended family  took interest in you and were available to give advice, when you asked.  Not as any kind of special thing, but as a part of life.  Deviations in behaviour , health changes, influences of friends, scholastic shortfalls,  et al were quietly noted, and solutions tried. A kind of seamless continuous counseling, without calling it that.

Today, things are expensive, there is competition in every sphere because the population outnumbers the resources.  Families have tended towards being nuclear, and unlike my childhood,  there are fewer people a child can turn to.  Tolerance has gone for a toss,  violence has increased in all spheres,  and education has almost become a business.  Women are at the forefront in many spheres, but  attitudes of society have not been able to keep up with the speed.  And so, when some worrisome change or shortfall is noted in a member of a family,  one approaches a "counselor".

Two stories.

The first concerns a young girl in eighth grade, who was an excellent swimmer, gregarious and fun loving, with lots of friends and a stable family;  but she took her time making new friends and basically opening up to anyone she didn't know. Her school announced the facility of a counselor visit on a regular basis, and for some reason, all the kids in the class, were scheduled for a one on one with the counselor lady.   A few days later, the girl's mother gets a note asking her to see the counselor.

Serious faces, looking at bulleted points on a paper, the mother was told, that the girl was averse to answering, she kept to herself, etc etc , and was showing signs of depression, and needed therapy.  The mother's jaw dropped. She disagreed completely with the lady.  If there was anyone who was opposite of depressed , it was her daughter. The daughter tended to be instinctive and open in her reactions to things, and tended not to go into a shell at all.  She probably didn't open up and feel comfortable with someone who was asking her questions which she thought were irrelevant.  The mother returned home, forgot all about the counselor lady , and the daughter has never had a depressed day in her life.  It is worth noting that the counselor lady , shortly thereafter, went on to register for  a doctorate in her subject.

The second story is about a mother who noticed  her daughter facing scholastic/learning problems in high school.   Things went from bad to worse, in a system, that was designed to make smart students smarter, and the rest of them be damned.  The mother went to meet the headmistress who was a very enlightened lady. The headmistress asked for a few days to look into this perceived problem, and to be able to get input from the various teachers.  Turned out that she had a problem with mathematics and physics etc.  The headmistress asked the mother if the family had any compulsion about making the child do maths. The mother said , no, they did not.  And they were then advised Open Schooling via the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS Board) which has been around for 25 years, as a Government Initiative. The daughter was evaluated, and she did her  matriculation/plus twos etc in an excellent manner, choosing liberal arts and commerce and computer  subjects. She has no problem with need based math,  and he went on to do a Bachelors in Arts and today works as an animator.         

And so today, one must differentiate between good and bad counseling.  Counseling is not something you go for,  for shoving your own responsibility on some one else. A certain degree in a certain subject does not make you a counselor. It has to be watered and strengthened , with lots of empathy, communication excellence, painstaking listening ability, and an understanding of the roots of the person who is coming for counseling.  Sometimes , it helps if someone anonymously listens to your problem, instead of face to face. And this is where helplines and call lines come into the picture.  Where folks are waiting to listen talk, and give you helpful information, guidance  and encouragement.

And this brings me to the latest ongoing field action project initiated  at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, which is the first School of Social Work to have started in India, and even today, remains a center of excellence.  

 iCALL (initiating Concern for All)

 iCALL is a helpline set up   bearing in mind the the scarcity of mental health services and paucity of trained and supervised professionals which have been fundamental barriers in the progress of the spread of mental health services in India.

Given the fact that cell phones have reached today, where electricity, health care,drinking water and paved roads have not,  it makes sense to have immediate, anonymous, non-judgmental and confidential support available to someone who is troubled.   It is also possible that those seeking help could be guided to professional knowledge and service resources in their area.

 These helplines are handled by Masters qualified psychologists who work full time with iCall, and have undergone special training.

What kind of problems are these folks equipped to  handle ?  iCall's counselors are equipped to deal with a wide range of issues ranging from relationship issues, marital discord, domestic violence, sexual violence, exam related anxiety, substance abuse and deaddiction, phobias, depression, loneliness, suicidal ideation, stress at the workplace, LGBT issues etc.

Those wishing to contact,   iCALL can be reached at 022-25563291 from Monday to Saturday between 11AM and 10PM. They can also be reached on mail at  

iCALL will soon be  24/7 accessible  and  will have a national access number.  

Someone I know, one of their star prize winning old students,  is leading this effort at his alma mater.  I wish this effort great success and may it bring a lot of succour to troubled minds.....

Monday, June 03, 2013

Review of "Shoes of the Dead" by Kota Neelima

I received this book for review as part of the Blogadda BookReviews Program. It is a hardcover book , first published in Rainlight by Rupa (2013).

The author, Kota Neelima, is basically a journalist working both as an editor with the Sunday Guardian and as a Research Fellow for South Asia Studies, at John Hopkins University in Washington DC.

She has handled a subject unique to our times. Farmer Suicides. Inaccurate weather forecasting, unpreparedness, bad monsoons, failed crops,  famines, have been a perennial worry.  Over the last several decades, migration of land tillers to cities, for jobs, to bring food to their families, has been a recurrent story.   But what makes these stories today even more shameless, is the politics of greed and power garnering that plays out in "places of plenty"  .

Sudhakar Bhadra, a farmer from the Gopur Village , commits suicide , leaving behind a widow and two small children. Sudhakar's brother, Gangiri, who has actually left the village earlier to work elsewhere, returns, and decides to fight for justice for his brother's family.

Why justice  ?

Because, the widow is supposed to get a compensation.  And whether she gets it or not, depends on how many people claim their real or virtual pound of flesh from it.

The Secretary of The Democratic Party (DP) in Delhi, whose son, Keyur Kashinath, is an elected MP from the Mityala constituency that includes the Gopur village. The fact that there is a politically motivated district committee that is supposed to certify deaths as  suicides either due to farming shortfalls  or  individual vices.  The fact that local moneylenders have a vested interest in the widow being refused compensation, so they can then usurp her land.  The village, Panchayat head, who has political aspirations, and family ambitions, who wants some industries to happen in his area, for personal benefit. The MP, who is disturbed because so many farmer suicides being reported from his constituency, troubles the high command, and he must face the consequences.  The shameless way by which bank managers, and government hospital doctors are co-opted into the sham meetings, that do not certify these deaths as farming suicides.

Gangiri, decides to fight this. It is his luck, that he is aided in this by  a fearless Delhi journalist, and a  lady social science researcher in one of the capital's elite think tanks.  It is another story, that the lady researcher is married to an industrialist with interests in the region that Gangiri hails from.

It is a story of how power corrupts the mind; how so many in positions of power really need to learn how India lives in the hinterland;  a story of bossism , gundagiri and personal power in rural areas; a story of the real facts being hidden from those who come to investigate; the story of how Gangiri with his native intelligence, and knowledge about his village personages and professionals, is able to get the suicide committee to give more honest judgements.

And how, when it came to his own little nephew's health deterioration, he could run around, and  get the doctors to check, but had to beg for money for medicines he needed to buy. To the same folks he fought earlier.

The story comes full circle. 

The book is a story of what actually happens in rural areas. The insult, the trauma, the suffering, the helplessness of those directly affected, and the fearlessness, straight talk, telling-it-like-it-is-and-was  of the women who were left to pick up the pieces.

We've seen the Lutyen's part of the story, daily in newspapers. The MP visits, the news bytes, the press conferences in starched white kurtas, and starched whiter lies. The announcement of waivers of loans. Vote bank politics

This book tells us what really happens. The author has researched very well, and the results are shocking.

Politicians not only steal you blind in life, they also steal you blind in death.

A very good read.


This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Jodi of the Year : Lady Bat and Lord Ball...

Sometimes,  you get ridiculed for your cricket knowledge.  Sometimes, some think you don't even deserve an answer. Maybe just a glare ?
You think the place is now full of silly points,  and  guys slinking away into gullies to hide.  The expert commentaries fall silent.  Bumpers being bowled everyday on the News.  Some weakly defend. Some verbally slash. 
 Tests, one days, 50 overs, twenty overs, IPL;  that apparently is the new smart vocabulary.  The staid and proper game of cricket , with its glorious uncertainties, has now become a hoop-la Big Fat Indian Game, complete with dancers, lights, Page 3  turners , and  there is an entire set of folks who make money out of the statistics of certain certainties. 
The greats of the game, appear gagged by those for whom they speak and play.  Those that order special enquiries at the drop of the hat,  look the other way.  The public that pays in time and money for these  events feels foolish about holding their breath over a game whose outcome was known in the first place. 
I just wondered what the two main stars, the Bat and the Ball ,  actually thought.....
Born of a willowy mother
in the Kashmir valley,
she grew up
in the shade of
a veil of leaves,
descending down around her
as if to
protect her innocence
as she imbibed,
by observation
and practice
some tough grains of life.

waxed protectively
at the ends,
and with facials by Linseed
she aged well
and became
an outstanding Bat of her times
with the aid of some
helpful handles,
and a firm grip on things.

He , born a Ball,
of Tehsil Cork,
in Meerut,
grew up
in the little alleys,
a disinterested flat fellow,
suddenly hammered into
a well rounded personality,
hung out to dry
and learned to face
the elements.

A protective
fine leather cover,
tailored just so,
skin hugging
above a tight wrapping
with affectionate wool rope
with the necessary 6 seams
running across
a blood red central midriff.

They would meet often
he and she would
actually indulge
in a fling.

Sometimes, she would
with a great sense of humor
reply in kind;
she would flick him away
and he would pretend
to race
to the boundaries
of his imagination;
sometimes ,
she would actually duck
and miss
allowing him
to spend some time
with the fellows
who always stood behind her;
and sometimes
she would gloat
as she saw him go sky high,
sometimes to get caught !

Proudly walking out
with the openers,
the entire stadium applauding,
and she would watch
in great anticipation,
as he twisted,
got scratched and spat on
and even oiled
as he pirouetted
in some magical fingers,
before taking off to meet her
in a magical arc

But alas.
Like in Bollywood,
there is a villain in the story.

who fills ideas
in the mind of Mr Ball....
She spends
so much time
with other fellows
in the Kit bag,
you need
to divert yourself
away from where she waits for you,
and doesn't matter
if she still scores.

No need to
always fall at her feet;
its OK to bounce up once in a while,
and never mind
if you get swept off
so long as you properly fall
into some one's hands".

Its difficult for Mr Ball
but he has no choice.
Some folks
simply cannot tolerate
the Pitch magic,
and the Howzzat band
that always plays,
when he and the Bat lady meet.

Life has become difficult.
of feeling secure
with the players paraphernalia,
and chit chats with
the pointy stumped fellows,
back in the pavilion,
they both get flung into a corner
as some folks immediately
get on their phones.

Folks don't realize
that Mr Ball and The Bat lady
both have ears,
and have some
sensational stuff in hand.

A lifetime
of being friends,
they want
to now spend their days together,
perhaps watching from the pavilion,
or even
being on the field
Rahul and Sachin play.

What do you do
when the villain
continues to misguide ?

Mr Ball, and the Bat lady,
the field violence,
erroneous fingers up,
glares, bad mouthing,
towels used to signal
rather than clean....

It is time
to return
to the Willow Woods
via Meerut..