Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Micturition, Sports and Society

Long long time ago, a little boy in kindergaarten, was chosen to act in a complicated play. There were many practice sessions, the teacher was greatly loved by her little students, and they hung on to her every instruction.

The D-day dawned, and the huge hall that held thousands , was actually full, with entire families turning up with relatives and so on. The amazing play got underway, with  all the kids in their very realistic costumes,  occasionally glancing into the wings, where their proud teacher stood .  The little boy was the lead player, the excitement was too much, and he suddenly realized  he needed to visit the loo, and actually could not. What happened next was an accident of nature so to speak, where, he looked up at the teacher for permission, expressed himself succintly about wanting to pee,   couldnt control himself, and quietly wet himself.

Undeterred, encouraged by his teacher, and unfazed by the hooting audience that must have consisted of folks who might have been straightaway born as as adults with attached loos,  he continued his role, and finished the play.

Some praised his dedication, brushed away the event as a small kid's response to all the excitement and his innate honesty, and patted his back.

Some came to his mother, doing ooh and aah, with looks of embarassment on their faces, asking if the kids were not encouraged to go to the loo earlier. His amazing teacher acted as if nothing had happened, and the evening went off without any problem.   (If you ignored the adults who had a problem, with a 3.5 year old kid performing in front of a huge audience , and inadvertantly giving in to the demands of his body).

Cut to yesterday, when England won the Ashes against Australia at the Oval in England.  The leading worthies of the English team urinated on the cricket pitch to celebrate. 

I don't see a big brouhaha about this.  Those that criticised the kid, probably think this is all fine, because it has happened in England,  The dictats of a developed society. 

Times have changed.

  Today, you do not urinate because your bladder is full. You urinate to express an opinion, to celebrate a victory, to demean a loser.    If you are an ex bowler of the English team, you are also allowed to urinate on people who have troubled you at nightclubs in their effort to enforce rules,  and you attribute it to life stresses  One county fires you and another county hires you, urination and all, and life goes on.

I dont see too many comments on this event here. Yes, British and Australian papers go to town on it,  some manager/president type says this is unacceptable, and some cricket types even make jokes about England getting the pitch ready for the Indians who will visit in the summer.

One now waits to see  how the latest craze takes root in India.

Up to now, folks urinated in public because they had no domestic facilities , or they were travelling by road, and in the middle of nowhere, or couldn't wait due to some medical condition, or old age.

I hope things do not come to such a pass, that captains and umpires coming out to inspect pitches, now come wearing masks and gloves.  I can see BCCI and the ICC at loggerheads on the issue of pitch-urinating. There will be accusations of pitch fixing and pitch throwing.  Committees will be appointed.  Chairmen will walk around with stiff upper lips, relaxing them just enough to say "The law will take its course".  Lalit Modi will tweet saying that's why the cheerleaders in T20 always faced the audience.  

Commentators will spend "filler" minutes on television talking about how things were back in their time.

Someone at Stanford or Cambridge will research and present a paper on the "Correlation between positive emotions and voluntary emission of waste products  from a sportsman's body"  or, "Analysis of pitch soil to ascertain intake of banned substances by cricketers" .

Sociologists will do studies on influx of foreign celebratory traditions on the Indian milieu, and trace it back to medeival times or something. 

But we must be grateful for small mercies.  It is just cricketers .

Turns out that a male  elephant,  excretes 13 gallons of urine in a day.  Horses, slightly more tolerable at 4.5 gallons. 

One day,  I will think back to one of our late eminent prime ministers, who practiced, (along with 5 million folks in Germany and 3 million in China) with total unconcern of what people thought, what is called Shivambu Kalpa in Ayurveda.

Treating the pitch of his body, as it were.

He would have simply shaken his head in despair at these sportsmen, , and muttered, "What a waste, what a waste .....!"

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So when the last time you helped change a life ?

He was always greatly interested in finding out how he could help folks. Free , on retirement, of the pressures of a daily job, he would enjoy many field trips to places , where there were issues of forestation, water, health etc, and thanks to his lifelong practice of active yoga,  he would confound people by travelling in crowded trains and trekking around , even as he approached his middle eighties.

His wife had passed away earlier, he was getting hard of hearing, and a lot of time was spent in meeting folks who called and came to him for advice on ayurveda, education, and meditation, all his favourite topics. He wrote extensively, and published 3 books. Never one to involve himself in too many material household things( even when his wife was alive) ,  he started giving away stuff from the house with a vengeance.  Some unscrupolous types took advantage of this , and would write fake letters to him asking for help, and he would meet them, sympathize,  and they would return home with some help in cash and kind. 

What this actually masked, is the various issues he helped address on his travels, and visits to places  where some kind of socially relevant work projects were being done. He had a constant exchange of letters happening with many organizations, whom he donated to. Sometimes it was for books and furniture for the village library at his native place in the Kokan, to allow students to come and study there.  Sometimes it was for someone who wanted to get saplings to green a greatly eroded land. Many times, it was for orgnizations that worked in the field of women's upliftment, devdasis,   and maternal and child health, in the internal areas of the country.

Somewhere as he approached 90, strangley for a person who wrote so much by hand, he became so anti-paper, that he went through paper cutting stage,  where he just trashed all kinds of paper to pieces, destroying important documents in the process.  His body called it a day, the mind did not, he became bedridden, and yet continued his various communications. His daughter, who was his caregiver, would now often deal with folks with different persuasions. Some who thought they could still tell fake stories and get help, and some, who were genuinely concerned for him and kept in touch . By and by , she learnt to separate the wheat from the chaff, as he slowly retired into his own wilful world, and often forgot family folks, and spoke of imaginary events.  

Many months later, he passed away on a winter night which had unseasonal showers. His daughter was by his bedside. 

She spent a few days in the empty house , now almost devoid of any kind of paper , with the exception of old books, which he left untouched. Even the family photo albums didnt escape his wrath. The entire thing, to her, was a learning experience , in how a mind and body copes with old age, in the modern age.  It was like he had shredded all the memories, and closed the door with a bang, before he left.

Many months later , she was sorting out the papers, and letters that came pouring in .   Letters received from various folks after they heard about his demise, and she was trying to respond to them.

One such was from an organization that worked with the upliftment of he Devadasis, by helping educate their daughters ,and weaning them away from a certain absorbtion into their maternal profession.  The doctor who ran the organization and helped, wrote back, how the folks were saddened to hear the news, and how they remembered his visits, and his talks , and how he took so much genuine interest.

And how one of the daughters of a Devadasi who he helped educate and empower, now functioned as a tehsildar.        

And it occurred to his daughter, that we make such a fuss and noise over educating our offspring, the choice of professions, the institutes, and yet, we are still in our own safety cocoons, with such comfortable boundary conditions, that we are unable to appreciate what a life changing thing it must have been for the mother of the lady, who slogged with whatever help she got, inspired a daughter to study, and manage a respectful life. 

There are no prizes and awards for either the person who made this possible, or the person who benefitted.

Life goes on.

But how many of us can honestly say today, that we changed a life ?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Revenge of the Termitoidae....

White ants , (known in posh circles as Termitoidae )  and I go back about 25 years.

I mean, really, I had never experienced the havoc caused by white ants  earlier than that.

 In my childhood, there was no pest control happening and/or advertising itself, or chaps coming in masks and pumps with evil smelling liquids.

Possibly, once in a decade or so, someone would shake their had helplessly over some old fabric showing weakness because of some stuff, but by and large, cupboards and trunks often smelt of camphor, neem leaves, and sometimes, even, dried tobacco leaves, in a virulently anti-smoking household.  Certain small creatures were often seen in the house, darting on walls, feasting on insects that came in the rain, and we were too busy with our lives to stand, shiver  and do a fashionable "Ewwww" every now and then.

25 years ago, we shifted to a house on a lake front. No , we didn't come up in the world by leaps and bounds, but the employer allocated this house to us. The untended jungle around us, the sparse traffic, and  other favourable conditions, occasionally enabled house visits by small snakes, rats , mongooses, squirrels, red , white, and large ants, and yes, the surreptitious white ants. I first noticed them as black lines, that grew longer and ominous, and climbed walls, and corners of wood cupboards.

We shifted two decades ago to a multi storied complex, thinking we had seen the last of them.  For a while I believed that.

Then 4 years ago, when they painted all the apartments in the building, we noticed that while the larger creatures had gone on to greener pastures, the white ants had found us again. This time due to monsoon leakage in walls, and the ensuing dampness.  Various books from our old collection now assumed a lace like appearance, several clothes got destroyed, but the worst was when the ants managed to eat up plastic covers, and eat off 80% of some bank receipts. The ensuing saga of taking the disintegrating papers to the bank, folks there rushing to see it all, and the process of getting duplicated issued resulted in a post here.

We asked for, then,  and got the white ants treatment done .

Last month, I noticed the creatures had returned, and were brazening it out fearlessly on various walls and corners , particularly where there was leakage. Some had managed to invade inside metal cupboards, and in an  attitude of persistence that could teach our municipal authorities a thing or two about how to keep  filling the potholes non stop, also managed to reach inside plastic bags.

Maybe the white ants were evolving. Maybe their DNA was getting methylated resulting in white ant offspring with better capabilities.  I would notice an entire stick like protrusion of white ants, sticking out above a door, into the air, like a jetté of a ballet dancer, in a cantilever manner. When I removed it, it would return with renewed anger a few centimetres away.   

And so , this time, they organized a building wide anti white ants and pest control campaign.  We spent days and hours clearing out stuff so the treatment could reach into every nook and white ant infested corner.

(Kind of reminded me of anti corruption crusades. The measures announced to wipe out the corrupt types. New rules made for folks to turn themselves in.  For a while you think it works, And then you are back to where you started. )

The only difference was , this time, I too had evolved. My tailbone vertebrae  which occasionally bothered me with pain earlier were , like the white ants, back in full pain, and I wore a back belt in my upright moments, to fool the vertebrae into thinking I was giving them rest. (I almost wrote "black belt" here. So much for misplaced confidence  :-)    )

The pest control/white ants fellows arrived in fancy orange uniforms and masks. The  chaps helped me move some heavy cupboards and stuff away from walls, where they would drill holes every one foot along all walls, and then inject medicine into these holes. They would also spray stuff copiously where required, and in places where drilling  holes was not possible.

I sat reading the paper in the living room amidst the drilling and pervading smells, attending to someone who came from the Establishment Health office to check.  Then I heard someone call out to me asking me about something in one of the inside rooms.

As is my wont, I rushed  to see what they needed.

And slipped hard in a pool of water that had developed along the corridor wall.  I am a veteran of falls , so to say, but this was different. I never ever vocally express my anguish during a fall. But this time was different. Maybe it was the belted back vertebrae, and the kept-in-check ligaments and tendons. And the entire uniformed lot rushed in response to an anguished shout, as they saw me collapse into what can be only described as a voluminous person performing a split;  the sort they do with so much ease , without making a noise , on all these dance reality shows.

No. This was not a case of anyone being careless. Turns out that  somewhere along the corridor, pumping of the meds into the drilled hole, got and entire colony of ants inside the wall into a dither, and they poured out of the hole  along with the pumped in liquid . 

I unknowingly stepped into the ensuing pool and performed this amazing split.

Like I said, the white ants have evolved. They are also greatly united .

Maybe they have now developed an improved tiny cerebral cortex, and can  now think.

In a united manner against an old adversary. Me.

Clearly, this has been their great revenge. 

But , one always learns something from one's misfortunes.

 And I actually, amazingly, (with apologies to the downstairs neighbors for sudden thumps on their ceiling), learned to do the split !



Friday, August 09, 2013

Review of "Land of the Seven Rivers" by Sanjeev Sanyal.

I received a copy of " Land of the Seven Rivers "   Penguin India (12 November 2012) by Sanjeev Sanyal  for  review, from Team ThinkWhyNot.  

When I went to school in the late 50's and sixties, History and Geography, bundled as "Social Studies"   was never my favourite subject. One was all about  dates, wars, dealing with duplicate names, and by-hearting what they did when they were not fighting;  the other was all about  latitudes, longitudes, climates, mountains, origins of rivers, and oceans , without specifying continuities and human linkages. 

But the complete title of this book , ie "Land of the Seven Rivers: A Brief History of India's Geography" intrigued me.  

And it turns out , that this is really a  History/Geography of India , as if the people mattered.....

The Sapta-Sindhu region, communities that sprung up around the course of the Saraswati river; slow tectonic changes that nudged the country we know as India, to its current position, thanks to a drifting of continents, and slowly blocked paths of rivers like Saraswati, that essentially faded away underground.  Migrations of people affected by this. Archaeological findings  of the Harappan ages, that tell us  of communities  that had a fairly ordered supervised existence.   The author  suggests that what we call the Vedic times, when the Vedas were being documented, are not just speculative stories, and there is enough to suggest that it might have something to do with the Harappans.  

The epics  like Ramayana and the Mahabharata appear to be linked to the subsequent development of the fertile Indo-gangetic area, and the  movement of the populace across it, thanks to centres of learning happening in Takshila and Nalanda at the two ends and the eventual appearance of the west-east Uttara  Path and north-south Dakshina Path, along which the Mahabharata and Ramayana stories proceeded.  Attackers, conquerors, of various dynasties, with various proclivities, some who destroyed and some who built, and even some who renounced; some with a sense of history, and some with an exaggerated sense of self.  The monuments that appeared across the geography to immortalize the history.  Motifs, symbols, and inscriptions, that carry themselves across ages.  The appearance of religion and those who promoted and or followed it.

The book ranges across  thousands of years, from the Vedic Ages to the present, tracing  community life, commerce,  interactions with foreign visitors,  power centres, even speculating on the symbolic and actual significance of animals like cows, horses, elephants, tigers, lions and so on, through the ages. 

Yes , it follows through with the arrival of various foreign folks who sailed the seas and ended up settling down in our country.  First to trade, and slowly to rule.   The author has a special interest in studying how our cities developed, and their individual ethos as a result of their history. 

The latter part of the book describes the post 1857  era, when everything took on political power hungry overtones.  How certain developmental activities done by the British, like railways, were actually  a result of  Northern states of the US blockading the southern states of the US , blocking raw cotton for British mills,  the British looking upon India as an alternate source  , and in anticipation, setting up, with the highest priority,  infrastructure like railways and docks . 

 The author also chronicles, changes in mindsets of the populace, results of education (Bombay, Calcutta and Madras Universities set up more than 100 years ago),  and how trains besides lugging export items to docks, also allowed  folks with excellent communication and scholarly  abilities to travel and impart learning and ideas across the country.  Some having to do with the Freedom Struggle.

 What makes this book enjoyable, is the several random nuggets that appear and are answered in a delightful manner .  How did the country acquire the name Bharat ?  Are there similarities in Sanskrit and Persian ?  Does replacing 's' with an  'h' or vice versa,  in the Zoroastrian scriptures  make them more understandable to those knowledgeable in Sanskrit ?  (aside :  Ever wondered why the "namah" of namaskar and namaz, both meaning obeisance sound similar? It is Old Persian-Sanskrit connection).

 Did Robert Clive  really do a thanksgiving Pooja at the Kali Mata temple in Kolkata ( as opposed to a church)  after he won the Battle of Plassey ? How maps and mapping techniques  evolved over time,  and the very scientific but painstaking technique devised by William Lambton  using stars and trigonometry to map distances and directions.  And how he got the assignment thanks to a chap called Arthur Wellesley (who later became the Duke of Wellington and defeated Napolean), who used Lambton's expertise in defining positions to avert a disaster in a war with Tipu Sultan .         

So many maps we see today , originated because this man Lambton lugged a half ton imported theodolite across the country, forests, mountains and beaches  and measured angles and calculated. It even crashed to smithereens once, and was repaired . The project, supposed to be done in 5 years, actually went on for 6 decades. Lambton was succeeded by an equally dedicated Everest, who headed the Trigonometrical Survey of India, and after whom the highest peak of the Himalayas was named by his assistant.      

 This book  is a chronicle of how  we have developed as a people and a country. Given the amazing, dynamically  changing physical, social, and political boundary conditions, where we seek solutions .  It is a chronicle of how earth movements, water bodies,  mountain barriers, extensive green covers,  and human ambitions  and endeavours,  have played a great part in making us what we are today.

Which is really what history and geography is all about.

This is not  a book that fits into an academically defined straitjacket, that has fixed definitions for History and  Geography .    It is not a book that makes you avidly flick pages surreptitiously to learn the ending . It is a book, you enjoy over several days, thinking about what you just read,  sometimes wondering, smiling in delight, sometimes telling someone about it, sometimes frowning, and sometimes telling yourself, "ah ! I didn't know that !"......     

One marvels at the stupendous research  conducted by the author.  The wide spectrum across which the book ranges boggles the mind. Contrary to what some might think,  one enjoys the personal interjections of the author, giving his impressions from various visits to places.  There is a sense of openness and urgency to imparting information throughout the book.  You sense the movement of time.    

 So much more can be written about this book. But that will be another book :-)

 And so  it may simply be advisable to read Sanyal's book.   

And speaking of the just mentioned water bodies ....  aren't we as a country, really like an ancient sturdy tree,  with its roots deep into Sarswatical deep ground waters,  growing through the ages, branching out and flowering in the directions where light is forthcoming, sheltering  various populations, who hang on and survive a la Darwin ?   Some creatures like the birds, bees, and butterflies, enhance our living,  some  like the Simian ones, are a bit of a rough life, causing destruction at times,  some branches fall off, leaves wither, but there is new sap coming up and disseminating through the strong trunk, and there are newer branches, and newer leaves.  At all times, fruiting happens, life evolves, and there are seasons  of warm celebrations, torrential rains, biting fearful colds, somehow all leading to some sunny summers......     




Monday, August 05, 2013

Olfactory Me.

I was born with what folks then politely  described as a snub nose , and for the first few years of my life, my late paternal grandfather  gave me a Marathi nickname (नकटी ) that highlighted this feature.  Consequently , in an amazing display of nostrils-over-nature, I fine tuned my olfactory abilities and have been deeply smelling al manner of things things ever since;   like,  trouble, opportunity, wonderful aromas, fragrances, and even stuff you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy.

More than half a century of living has you wondering.

My earliest smells, have to do with hot copper boilers, coal,wood, steaming water, and  ambehaldi smells.  We had a traditional copper boiler which worked on coal, and there was this fragrance that was a compounding of fire, water, copper, hot shahabad stone and ambehaldi with milk. Sometimes compounded with shikekai scrubs.

Then there was the smell of tur dal which had just cooked to perfection.  and you impatiently inhaled the rich aroma as you waited for the rice, the ghee, and the squeeze of a lemon.

Jasmine, champa and mogra fragrances intermingling with mild agarbattis and lit lamps in the little puja corner of the  just mopped, slightly still wet  floor of  one of the inner rooms in the house .

Spicy bossy flavors that transcended floors and wafted down to the garden were those that prompted folks to ask if we were pounding garam masala in wilambit taal,  or grinding roasted horse gram (kuleeth, a Kokan food).  These were comfort smells  and still remain so.  Along with scintillating aromas of garlic , hing and methi participating in the most amazing tadkas of all time. And let's not forget the smells of butter being made into ghee wafting across the house.

I could go on and on .     

I did.    :-)

I went to the US to study after college.  And learned that houses did not smell of  biryanis and tadkas, but like a summery spring that happened in the midst of the harshest winter. When you went to some one's for dinner you couldn't guess the menu, thanks to "sprays".  To me, everything was like they showed in the movies, spic and span and smelling of roses.   And those visiting my shared apartment always rushed to look inside the pot to see what was smelling so good thanks  to my spray-disabled state..  

I do realize that all smells do not emanate from kitchens. There are unpleasant smells, and some simply need to be masked by something better. 

That is why hospitals smell different. To remove the smell of disease. 

Corporate offices smell different. Possibly to hide the smell of big money.  

There are Ambi Pur sprays and things available in various scents where you can pretend you are enjoying  New Zealand Springs, Pacific Air,  Vanilla Bouquets, or in a Lavender Spa  amidst Hawaiian flowers, or even pining for Thai Dragon Fruit and so on.  

The smartness is in knowing to know when you need to use these. 

I learned it by accident. 

Our new car, (bought after 38 years of an old faithful  going geriatric on us and relocating somewhere else for research),  one fine day simply didn't start, when I turned the ignition .  I had just bought vegetables the previous day .  Things were working fine then.  Investigations revealed that rats, who think our building garden is wonderful, actually thought the car was better. They squeezed in and feasted on some electric cables.  The mechanics, in the time trusted Juggad tradition,  did the connections again , and advised us to keep tobacco pouches all over the car, along the wiring , to keep the rats away.  While doing the work, the mechanics yanked the rear seat , and while putting it back , probably left a gap where the seat belts should have emerged but now actually didn't.  

A few days later, it became impossible to sit inside, not due to the  anticipated but strangely non existent hot tobacco smell,  but, thanks to some really bad rotting smell.  It turned out that a small cabbage had fallen out of the bag, earlier in the trunk, and simply gone bad in the heat and suffocation of the trunk. Thanks to the gap in the rear seat, we were the beneficiaries of the terrible smell.   

At this point it must be mentioned that the daughter is a standing example of animate objects that exude fragrances thanks to various cosmetic sprays, and every time she traverses your path you get a whiff of something. She is hugely interested in the various Ambi Pur fragrances available for non-personal spraying.  She was inordinately interested in the  piece that I received in the post,  and promptly installed it on the air vent in the dashboard of the car.  A few drives around the place with windows open, and the car became usable again, without having to hold your breath.    

So yes, life in the car is tolerable again.  But for the times that one is on two legs instead of four wheels,  in the innards of the house,  I would like to give suggestions to the Ambi Pur folks  regarding fragrances and aromas.  

The aroma of Ginger and lemon that might encourage the cilia in the nostrils to e-tickle your taste buds;  a whiff of roasted Ajwain  to settle your stomach;   a hint of  elaichi and nutmeg  for special days to honor the environment in which shrikhand is being greatly relished.  

I wonder if the aroma of new books can be bottled   Or how difficult it is to capture the aroma of  a baby being given a traditional Indian style bath , oils, medicinal seeds thrown on charcoal embers to create inhalable smoke. Or the fragrance of a lap of a mother, complete with palloos  hinting  about a just imbibed meal.    Or the combined smell of a baby, milk and talcum powder. 

I am sure the Ambi Pur folks are listening. 

In the meanwhile, if you think of a sprint race between the various aromas , say, lavender, jasmine, pacific air, New Zealand spring, Hawaiian flowers,  rose, sandalwood,  garden fresh , and say, that of fragrant Hyderabad biryani happening in some one's house,  all I can say , is , that , the last one will be the Usain Bolt of it all......   

Just saying....

P. S. If the Ambi Pur people ever come up with Tobacco aroma stuff you can leave  in the  car internals, do remember that you heard it here first.

Submitted as an entry to the Indiblogger  AmbiPur Smelly to Smiley Contest.