Friday, December 19, 2014

Unknown of the Mind

The mind is a fascinating piece of stuff. 

I am not sure if mind and the brain are the same, or whether mind is the software in the brain .

But strangely , one always assumed the "mind" was somewhere near the heart, a greatly esteemed organ , even before the technical intricacies of its working came to be known. .

In one's growing up years, there was an element of God associated with the mind. Firm beliefs that certain stotras and prayers afforded you relief in troubled times. Confirmations, that you sometimes got struck with a stroke of good sense simply by divine intervention of some sort.  And someone, with a convoluted sense of good and bad, and a perceived pest was simply that way as a result of his bad karma.

Today, in the days of brain chemicals, firing neurons, stubborn synapses, and angry amygdalas, there is still a sneaking  thought, that divine intervention still works; despite medications that , say, straighten you out, Some One Up There clearly has the final Say; and a lot of stuff that decides how your mind functions majorly depends on interactions and understanding of people around you.

He was in his late eighties. A sprightly , healthy person, with a love for exercise, yoga, literature, creative writing, and nutrition, and despite blood values that were exemplary, at some point age caught up with him. The body engine defaulted on energy and he was bedridden.

At first the mind functioned perfectly.  He had his favorite foods, favourite people, favourite topics , and things he greatly disapproved off. But it slowly became a great effort , physically to hold forth on these.  The mind was in full force, and he would get very angry about this inability, and  complain bitterly.

 His walking friends from the park near the house, came to visit him, and were amazed to hear him say that he would soon be joining them once he recovered.

That was the time, the mind made its foray into a wishful  realm.

He would talk and tell his caregivers about how he had just done a 2 km walk that morning, even specifying where he went. He would forget that he had lunch, and pull up folks for not bringing him his lunch. But he still remembered people. His caregivers, his doctor , his doctor's late grandpa (a doc who was his friend),  neighbors, and relatives.

Then came a time, when he stopped recognizing folks. Except his caregivers.

He would remember assorted details about others, but their names and the ability to recognize eluded him. He had overseas immediate family, and he forgot their names but remembered that they were "very far away"; he didn't recognize them when they came to see him.  

But interestingly, his mind kept track of the fact that he was supposed to recognize some folks and he couldn't, and so, whenever he now faced someone on a visit or on the phone, he would exclaim and act out a generic greeting, smiling and nodding his head, saying Hello, and Welcome, and so forth. It made the visitor feel good, the person on the phone , happy, and his daily caregivers were simply astounded to see how his mind was able , in its apparently confused state, to pull off this thing.

On random visits of folks like relatives he couldn't recognize, he would suddenly enquire about someone of theirs his mind  apparently connected to; but he simply couldn't put names  to people. It was as if there was a list of names in his mind, and a few records were corrupted, and so , unlinkable to other information. Strangely , he sometimes remembered the other info, but the link to the corresponding name had gone. 

A caregiver who worked in IT, often wondered whether there was anything like a "root" brain, that managed  all this linking, playacting,  memory and stuff.

The energy loss continued, and eating became a tiring activity, even though someone was feeding him his favorite foods.  He would go through stages of stupor, sleep, and non stop verbalizing. At times he was very alert in real time. He started confusing the identities of his caregivers, and often mentioned names of people who he imagined visited with him, but actually did not.  It became an effort even to open his eyes, and a a couple of spoonfuls of soup like sambhaar would tire him, and he would hold his hand up.

A kind of withdrawal  of his mind within itself was apparent to all, and everyone worked at communicating normally with him, and keeping up his normal routine , hoping it was a changeable phase.

The mind is a strange entity.

He had lost all concept of time, day and night. The caregivers kept caring and feeding him to keep up his energy levels,  whenever he was awake and amenable to it.  His eyes were mostly closed, and he would gesticulate with his hands and by mouthing words. Clearly , he was unable to identify people around him, and had stopped recognizing folks.

His daughter was feeding him soup late  that night.  Very clearly, he could not see that it was her.  He had a few spoons, and then indicated , that he had enough by holding up his palm in his bed.  He whispered his daughter's name, and in a perplexing display of energy, raised his entire arm up, trying to ascertain where she stood bending over him, and tried to  touch her face. With his eyes , open almost like slits, he imperceptibly moved his face, touched her face, mouthed her name, cupped her chin like you would for a small child, and then she felt his hand go limp  as she held it in her grasp.  

What came over his mind in his last moments ? How did he remember her name, and how did he know it was her feeding him ? What gave him the energy to lift his arms, seek and cup her face in his hand ?  Was there some unknown energy that fired his mind in his last moments , temporarily going back in time ?  Was there a final moment of revelation in his mind, when just for an instant, the brain functioned at full power, remembering his family, just before asymptotically sliding to a null value ? 

Like I said, the mind is a fascinating thing.  Like I said , the mind may be the software in the brain. 

But somewhere,  despite all the fancy brain research, medications, predictability of brain conditions, and theories of development of a single cell into a homo sapien over millions of years,  why does it keep occurring to me, that there will always be an Unknown of the Mind ?
 And possibly, what I believed in my growing up years , was true ?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Write is Right....

As a society ,  we have an amazing aptitude for latching on to new technology, sometimes, albeit thoughtlessly, and almost always , in a hurry. 

When this has something to do with teaching kids in their preschool days, one needs to start asking questions.

Today, I see kids, sitting in strollers, fiddling with cell phones, tapping and sliding fingers, and playing games. Same goes for kids of preschool age, and the parents proudly look on, as the kids activate Apps, plays games and so on.  This translates to cartoons on television at home  , watched regularly at fixed times. Fiddling with knobs and tapping to invoke things is supposed to indicate that the kid is technologically smart.  Preschool days, means sending kids to some kind of coaching classes to prepare them , for, heavens sake, interviews, that will decide their admission status.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University collaborating with the School of Education at UIUC in the US, have just  published  a study , in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly explaining,  why early writing, preceding any formal education, plays an instrumental role in improving a child's literacy level, vocabulary, and fine motor skills.

 Given that today's kids are clobbered with written words, pictures, and stuff flowing endlessly in color, past their field of vision , as they fiddle around with smart phones, tablets, and computers, this research simply confirms what , say, my parents knew. 

Even in our digital age, early parental writing support is key to children's literacy

Twenty years ago, the daughter attended kindergaarten in Germany after spending a year in Junior kindergaarten in Mumbai. We were aghast to learn that children in Germany, by law, were strictly kept away from writing/per se, till they went to first grade at six; and this was because of some muscle development issues in the fingers. (The daughter by then , having attended a year of KG in India, was happily spelling and writing, 3 letter words phonetically).

I just wondered how our parents managed, more than 60 years ago, with no Internet, no rules imposed on education of such young kids, no phones, cell or otherwise, and no television.  Clearly, they were also not privy to papers being published on the subject. 

I remember my school being an English medium school, and the fact that we enjoyed lots of nursery rhymes and lustily sang, accompanied by a wonderful teacher playing the piano, did not stop my folks from doing their bit, to ensure that I learned what they thought was missing.

We had a student from a neighboring  Ved Shala who came by to teach us the various stotras we were supposed to know in Sanskrit, 3 days a week. We also had another teacher who came to train us in writing well; those were days of pencils and slates, ball points were a novelty out of reach and clearly not on the scene, and fountain pens were something you got only in class 8. We used to use a sharpened bamboo reed, called "boru",  dip it in an ink pot, and write the marathi alphabet in large letters in a book, for practice , at home, marvelling at the fine edges it gave to the end of letters.   There were lots of marathi and english children's books in the house, and we would attempt to read these, sometimes challenged and sometimes aided  by folks at home.  I remember learning how cat was pronounced, and then discovering delightedly , that I could spell fat , bat and that. 

There was a daily activity of what is called "Shudhh lekhan". Using a pencil.  We would copy a longish paragraph , in English and Marathi, from somewhere, it could be a magazine, the newspaper, or even a book. The idea was to improve your handwriting, learn certain words in a natural way since they were used often, and also train your finger  musculature .   

By and by , the Vedshala teacher got to a stage where he was teaching us Raamraksha,related to our holy scriptures, a few verses everyday, learned in a augmented manner.   He would tell us the general meaning, and slowly we realized some commonly used features in Sanskrit, without anyone forcing it on us.   The English education was happening side by side with the Marathi.  Both reading and writing.

Having realized how words were spelt, I was fairly fearless about making up my own spellings. Particularly of Marathi words.

My parents were away in the north  due to my father's posting, where my mother had taken time off from our schooling  etc , to help set up a working house .  My aunt and uncle stayed with us, so as to keep all our activities going without a break, as school was still in term.  We were supposed to write letters to our parents like twice a week, describing what we were doing and the general scene.

My mother suddenly got a postcard where it said we had progressed till "EtamRamabalopetamrakshaayaasukrutipathet".      For a long time they tried to figure out what was being said. And then they realized that I was reporting to them, that we had reached the tenth stanza of the Ramaraksha which went as :

एतां रामबलोपेतां रक्षां य: सुकृती पठॆत्‌ ।
                                        स चिरायु: सुखी पुत्री विजयी विनयी भवेत्‌ ॥१०

There was a lot of laughter,  various friends  at the place joining in and exclaiming about the innovative spellings. 

Many years later, some of them visited us when we were much older and recalled this episode.  

Entertainment apart, this was the ethos in which we were taught and educated. Before serious schooling and subjects etc kicked in. I learned to write and understand the nuances of spelling, much before we started getting dictation in school, and I never ever by-hearted or memorized any spellings. To this day. 

My parents didn't know about all the fancy research, they didn't know when you should introduce kids to writing.  We often drew things and wrote things on the Shahbad stone floor tiles at home, sometimes for fun, sometimes for practice. If one of us showed aptitude for performing arts, that too was encouraged. But care was taken to see that whatever literature was around in the house was age appropriate for us.   

I often wonder if we have become a nation of followers.  Some new technology comes, we follow the herd. Something known to us, returns back to us as a western concept, we follow the herd.  An entire generation of my time, now has to deal with the current generation, that has taken avidly to sms lingo which is hemlock for the English language.  People have forgotten the art of writing letters, and putting down points in an organized manner.  Consequently, we have an entire generation , that sometimes, doesn't even bother to read.  Try writing in a complaint, and nine times out of ten, the person responsible for solving your problem has not bothered to read. 

 Then these good folks in Tel Aviv University and Univ of Illinois at Urbana   Champagne  publish their research. It appears in the Internet in a mailing list I subscribe to. Tomorrow it will appear in the Times of India. And everyone will seriously take note of it and start new educational theories. Someone in some ministry will suddenly issue a dictat, and something that we did using common sense and a sense of dedication , will be forced on us as a sudden rule.

Many folks my age, relocated to other countries, and brought up their children there. They probably used the same ideas that their parents did, when bringing them up.

These folks faced a different educational system, than say, my children did.

I wish those guys in Tel Aviv and UIUC had spoken to me. 

Never mind.

I would have told them the secret behind the preponderance of Indians amongst the winners of Spelling Bees in the US.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Railonama : Review

I received "Railonama : Unforgettable Train Stories" by Anupama Sharma as part of the Blogadda Book Reviews program.  Published by GoodTimes Books, 2014,  this is a nice compact book of 240 pages, and is a lovely collection of Indian Railway experiences of people across a wide spectrum.

After a childhood  of travelling to the posting place of a civil-services-parent, during each vacation, from Pune, a history of travelling to and from college away from home in my late teens, and then later on , travelling with a small child, I completely identify with many stories  selected for this anthology.

Stories selected here, are from submissions from all over the world, and not just India, and it is interesting to read a non Indian's perspective on many things that we take for granted. Train travel in India is clearly not about mechanical wonders, speeds, and timings, but more about people who continue their inclusive home lifestyles right into the train.

There are stories of long distance strains, mountain railways, about-to-be-extinct-metre-gauge trains, and even short distance iconic trains like the Pune Mumbai Deccan Queen.  The unfolding of regional panoramas  as the trains chug across the Indo Gangetic, or peninsular landscape, the observable change in foods and cooking styles, predominance of teas/coffees as a beverage of the masses, the color, the habit, and attitudes of co passengers, all make for a wonderful read. The selection and arrangement of the stories is excellent, and one always looks forward to the next story .

There are a few inspired poems, mostly by those from outside India, who are clearly smitten by the romance of the railways,  stories of entire families, routinely travelling  long distances with large baggage, visiting the head of the household at his posting, episodes of kids getting down at stations to get things and then barely jumping on to the train as it chugs away from the platform,  random disobedient fearless small kids who wander on platforms while their tired mother sleeps with another infant, and how these kids are taken under one's wing and disciplined, by rank outsiders , something that will happen only in India.  Unknown concerned parents worrying about a young girl travelling back alone to college, and likely to miss her classes.   And a story , about the unwilling-to-go all-knowledgeable co passenger, who insists on forcing solutions on you, which never work, and who ends up being firmly told off.

Clearly, one cannot enumerate the stories here. It is not the purpose of this book review.

But as someone, who travelled in the late 50's from Pune to Arrah(in Bihar) in a compartment with only 8 berths, and a central free area where you could  even play langdi, then traveled every year, in the sixties ,  in college, from Pune to Mumbai, lugging a sitar in an unreserved ladies compartment, and since then has braved the Mumbai Suburban Central Railway , sometimes lugging chutney stones and homemade brooms, being assisted by the co passengers , and sometimes, travelling with small children who were embarrassed with my handling of the massive pushy crowds,  I totally identify with the many stories  in this book.

I congratulate Anupama Sharma on zeroing in on this topic. her selection of stories, and for an extremely delightful read !

Go get this book.      

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of "Twists of Fate" by Priyanka Naik

Priyanka Naik is a virtual blogger friend. Met her on Facebook, and she qualified as one of my many friends  who inspire me to comment on their  posts in the form of verse.  She ,  is a doctor and diabetologist as well. 

Turns out that she is also an author.

 "Twists of Fate" , published by Mahavir Publishers (2014) is  her maiden offering.

I am always intrigued and interested when someone writes a book where a lot of stuff is shown happening in Mumbai.  Call me old fashioned if you will. But  I am even more interested when it does NOT  have anything to do with corporate shenanigans, financial crookedness, high society shocking falls, gundas, police, banks, cheating, four-letter-words-used-as normal-conversation , television and Bollywood.

This is a story about 3 friends, Sharvari Joshi, Parizaad Sethna and Nandini Muzumdar, who lived, studied and grew up in Mumbai. Their adolescence,  the social milieu in which they lived , their families,  and their growing up into women, who go their own ways,  perhaps , due to twists of fate.  

The author starts out with what can be only called an ode to Mumbai.  An introduction to the city where the three girls live out their stories. Their childhoods.  A conservative middle class, possibly Shivaji Park(of old)  childhood of Sharvari Joshi, high on sensible living, studies and traditional family relationships.  The  hi-fi , society conscious , parents  of Nandini Muzumdar, who have no time for their  2 daughters . And a typical Parsee family of Parizaad Sethna, with a very generous indulgent doctor father, and a  very kid friendly, observant, food expert,  mother with a British background, but steeped  in more Indian parental ethos than the actual Indians.  All three girls, as youngsters have a favourite haunt, a Cafe Connect managed by Parizaad's mother , where they are fussed over by the lady who also has a keen sense of observation , and an ability to communicate and help.

The girls lose contact after college, and go their own ways. Some get married.  And face their individual ups and downs. Some in very physical ways, and some in reams of mental trauma.  Parizaad Sethna goes to the UK , to seek family solutions to her mother's puzzling memory situation, and makes her own life as a photographer.

The story is about the three lives, a meeting by chance many years later , back in Mumbai, and how they literally "feed" off each other mentally, trying to right the various situations, with their new learnings, and awareness  of life.

The book is like the Mumbai suburban trains. They start with a tentative jerk velocity, which soon meshes into a rhythmic smooth ride, offering you life vistas that make you think.

For those like me , belonging to the generation before Priyanka's , who can identify with one of the girls , and had friends like the others, it is a joy to read through the growing up years.   (I actually had a Parsi best friend).  The author has a way with words, and great felicity of expression.   Somewhere , as a doctor she is able to weave in  the issue of Alzheimer's which is  often the bane of many in old age, and the possible solutions that are available, medically and socially.

A few things though, in the book, seem a bit too convenient, in today's Mumbai,  which is when the three girls meet again.  That Parizaad's old house and the cafe remain unoccupied, and convenient for the get-together of the girls, in the face of the real estate sharks  and the politics of Mumbai, which has changed a lot .  Not impossible but surprising. 

But I loved the ending. Nandini finding her calling and starting her nutrition diet set up, Sharavari doing her book, Parizaad with her mother, temporarily back to the place of her childhood, and her mother, responding suddenly to vague memory glimmers as she gingerly touches an oil painting from her past.....

 A great first attempt by a young woman. It has been great reading about a Mumbai that I remember , and was a part of . It has been instructive  as the author weaves in problems faced in today's modern family in the face of a society that sometimes doesn't move as fast as time. 

So does  this book have autobiographical leanings ? I don't know. But if it does, the book is richer for it.

A wonderful flow of the narrative, has you smiling and nodding occasionally, as you dip into the past.

Go ahead and get it.  Then go get a nice cup of tea.

And then read it. Enjoy .  The book, that is ...


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Koyri Indulgence ..... go visit!

I guess  no other generation other than mine, must have seen such vast changes in societal and other standards. 

My earliest school , way back in the late fifties, simply banned earrings, and tikkas-on-the-forehead. The type of school,  where Himaalayaa was pronounced as Himaleyaas, and caused many eyebrows to be raised at home.  Later on, in high school elsewhere, with a slightly more Indian ethos, we were allowed small "rings" or metal stud earrings in the ears, and small tikkas on the forehead. The rings were what are called hoops today, and the size was such that you could try using them as toe rings and they would still be small.  Once installed, these earrings were hardly ever removed, and some of my most traumatic moments were when I come home with just one earring, having lost the other. It was always gold, there was hardly a market for random metal jewellery, and by and by one was presented with an identical set of earring hoops, say, with a tighter clip.  Suffice it to say, that even on non school, celebratory formal occasions, traditional stuff was the order of the day in jewellery,  and no one really had a choice.

Today, with so many women in the workplace, I find that there is unlimited choice. 

Jewellery now boasts of various metal bases, interesting beads in amazing colors, assorted lengths, attachments, and designs. There are many places selling these items, and fashion conscious folks match their jewellery to their outfits. Consequently, jewellery design itself has become an interesting profession.

My friend Gunjan, is someone who excels at this.

A completely self taught jewellery maker and designer,  she multitasks as an IT person, swimmer, mother, avid gardener  and designer. 

Her brand Koyri, (which means a Paisley shaped container, in which we normally keep kumkum powder with which we welcome ladies and is essentially a very Indian shape replicated often in embroidery),  boasts of amazing stand alone earrings, jewellery sets, and necklaces, designed with the modern woman in mind.  Stuff that can match your outfits, be they formals, traditionals et al.

Go check out her stuff at Koyri She even has stuff for today's little girls . At Little Koyri ...  Stuff to match every frilly frock and suit. And you will never have to worry, like my mother did , when I lost stuff in school.

Click  to see a slide show of her products below.

Ensembles like necklaces and earrings. Sometimes Bracelets and earring sets.  Twists, whorls  and turns in dainty style, shapely beads, and an explosion of color.

She plans to expand into fridge magnets and bookmarks. Pendants and rings. No to mention Kurta buttons.

She also has a another exclusive  service , one doesn't see much of, elsewhere. 

Trusting  folks often send her samples of outfits they plan to wear for an important occasion, and she designs matching jewellery  to complete the look !

The biggest advantage  of going to Koyri ? The most reasonable prices.  Check her out.

And should you wish to indulge, there is a 20% off coupon , as above, for first time customers, who go from here.

Koyri is a labor of love from a young girl, who is coming to terms  with her own amazing hidden designing talent, while still pursuing a full time busy life as an IT professional, daughter, wife, mother-of-a-very-young-son, and gardener.

Gunjan is a good friend of mine .  I admire what she does, and wish her great success in whatever she does. 

Go to Koyri and indulge !


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review : The Mahabharata Quest; The Alexander Secret

I received this book, the Mahabharata Quest, the Alexander Secret, for review, as part of the Blogadda BookReviews Program.

Published by Westland (2014) ,  this is the second book  in the series, the first being The Mahabharata Secret, authored by Christopher Doyle.

The author's name intrigues me.  Forty two years ago, I started my first job in Mumbai, along with another person who joined the same day as I did. The name of this other person was Christopher Doyle.  :-)  

And no . This author is a different Christopher Doyle.  And possibly much younger . As it says in the introduction on the very first page, among many other impressive qualifications,  he has his own band, that plays classic rock, and it is called Mid Life Crisis.   (My colleague and I would have played in the Seniors Band)

I have not read the earlier book. And wondered about the link between Alexander and the Mahabharata.

The narrative flits between various ages and countries.

A time when Alexander the Great, besotted with the idea of being a God, triggered by his mother's revelations about  a metal plaque and inscriptions on cubes, relentlessly drives his soldiers and nobles across the HinduKush, and mindlessly tends to kill those who oppose him, even in conversation.    

It is also about a time , when a US-India Task Force ends up chasing the same in an effort to keep out those who are into perceived bio terrorism and seeking out the same cubes with inscriptions and secrets. There are investigations into finding unexplained corpses in labs, and sudden localised fires destroying pharmaceutical results and data. 

And it is also about a group of international unlimited funding types, belonging to, what is called an ancient secret order, almost dating back to days of Alexander, who are  again, after the origins associated with Alexander's search for becoming a God,  and think nothing of participating in archaeological excavations, then blowing it all up, and killing anyone associated with it.

The Samudramanthan story , the churning of the oceans by the Devas and Danavas, is given a unique interpretation. Shlokas are mentioned, with alternative interpretations, which look plausible. There is an effort to look at the original fable(if you can call it that) in the light of various genetic discoveries at the nano level that are happening in the bio sciences today.  

And all this happens on a wide canvas that ranges across fort structures, hospitals, laboratories, in New Delhi, excavations in Greece, mountains in various East European countries (Kazakhstan et al), Iran/Persia and Afghanistan, and assorted advisory appearances from Washington.

I have lately read many books that also follow the multi country, multi character, multi technology system, and develop a narrative. This review will not explain all the characters and outline a story.  That is left to the reader.

I found that this book seamlessly flits  across ages, countries and characters. More important, these characters are believable, often think like you and me. This may not be important to some, but it keeps one rooted while reading. Yes, there are villains in the story, plenty of them. (I have often developed a cynical attitude with characters-from-novels  in their twenties, with a disdain for morals, money and family responsibility and a complete absence for any kind of restraint regarding words of abuse, which are flouted with impunity; and I have often looked for a mental beep to keep out those words. This book has none of that.)  

One is amazed at the authors research that ranges across the Life and Times of Alexander and his successors and campaigns across Asia,  Greek history mythology and Gods, ancient Sanskrit verses , and most of all,  the science of aging with special reference to viruses, bacteria, and their activities in the DNA of humans, that define a human life. 

The narrative flows well, the detailing of stuff is just sufficiently detailed so it keeps your interest going. It doesn't happen that you start turning the pages to skip excessive detailing of something, something that happens in some books. Unusually, in the book, the government doesn't always win, they actually sit and analyse what went wrong. There are two women characters in the book, Alice and Radha. (If you omit Alexander's mother, the Queen).  They actually function more like synapses, and less like individual neurons in the story.

Somehow, one feels Alice isn't too useful once she gets to Delhi, and one rues the death of Radha. 

The author manages to keep your interest throughout.  And an annexure at the end of the book outlining details of historical characters, and biotech terminology is an excellent idea.

This book would probably ideal for converting it to a screenplay for a movie.  It has it all.  (If they make it in Bollywood, they might end up getting Radha back from the dead, using the knowledge gleaned from the ancient Samduramanthan.  The author may kindly take note   :-)   )

I enjoyed reading this book, and learned many new things.

I hope you will too .

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

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Annals of "S" : A new grandkid arrives ...

My household help "S" , a much admired person on this blog, is back after a long hiatus.

We have both , in a sense , moved on.  Not physically, though.  Many of the households she worked for, have retired and moved away, and she is of an age where she is not actively looking for new work, thanks to a set of well settled kids.  I look forward to an impending move a year on.  After which , "S" says, she too will retire, not look for any new work, and simply spend times with her grand kids.

She recently arrived  2 mornings ago, in a breathless way,  all raring to finish her work and go somewhere. The middle son's wife who was expecting her second child , suddenly developed contractions early in the morning.  The mother and husband rushed her to the municipal hospital, leaving "S" to mange the older kid and see him off to school with the others.

"S" had just received word, that initial examination revealed that the child had rotated at some point and it looked that it could be a breach delivery. That is, an attempt by the foetus, to arrive feet first.  The doctors would try everything, and would do a Caesarean , if everything failed.  "S" was a bit alarmed by all this,  had a cup of tea with me to calm herself down, and then rushed to be with her son and daughter-in-law at the municipal hospital.

She returned back here to work this morning , now a grandmother of 5 grandsons.  And desperately ruing the fact that there were no granddaughters.

The doctors at the place were clearly experienced and skilled, and they were able to orient the foetus  to a more normal head first style, and perform a normal delivery. Mother and newborn child were doing fine, and would be home that day.

And "S" had some stories to tell.

When the two grandmas  asked to see the baby, after a very tense two hours of waiting,  the ward sister, would turn to the ayahs, and ask :

"Should we show the baby ? What do you say ?"

"Ask them what they are willing to pay !  "  the ayah would reply.

The ward sister would shrug, look at  "S", and the ayah would watch.

S pulled out her small wallet and hesitantly offered 3, 100  re notes.

The Ayah turned up her nose. Refused to accept it.

No baby.

S brings out one more note.  The ayah turns away.

No baby.

Two more 100 Re notes later, a total outlay of 600 Rs, the ayah relents,  smiles and says , "You see, there are six of us ..... ", and then disappears some place to bring the baby.

 All this blatantly happening in full view of the ward.

The baby was brought in,  greatly admired, kala tikkas put,  and then taken back inside.

S told me all this when she came in this morning. I asked why she didnt report this to the doctor on duty .  Baksheesh is something given with pleasure, and not like a ransom.  She told me that after seeing the ward sister deferring to the ayahs on this, she didnt think the doctor would be any different.  Besides with so many overflowing wards  crowded with patients, it didnt seem correct to bother a doctor about such things,  when he could be attending to some really sick person.

S is a hardworking single mother, who is now a hardworking but wiser , single grandmother. She still continues to work a few houses because she likes the thought of being independent and contributing to the house , and as she says, " Keep working till your limbs are capable of movement...".  She doesnt earn a fortune, and never talks about such things.

And yes, that 600 rupees was a BIG sum for her.  For frittering away.  She would never think twice about spending it if it was needed for something like someone's medical treatment, educational fees and the like. 

When her few moments of happiness at welcoming the latest addition to her family are marred by worries of money, it makes me wonder what kind of society we have become.

Growing up when and where I did, there was no culture of allocating a price to something as part of celebrations. Whether it was a new birth, or lost/stolen  footwear of a bridegroom during marriage ceremonies.

There is something strange about a society, that still thinks nothing of throwing clumps of hair (cleaned from a comb)  down from a balcony of a posh society, but thinks adapting to such modern moneyed customs to celebrate happiness is the thing to emulate. 

Have we "formalized" happiness and celebration , by defining a value ?  Have we imbibed a culture of "piling on" , where,  all sorts of folks who never ventured near your house for any work, land up at Divali etc, to claim baksheesh as part of some group ?

 Have we lost the grace with which these things are accepted, to the extent, that the ayah in the hospital bargained  with "S" , for showing S her own grandson ?  Is that a first  introduction to the real world for the hours  old child ?

What an entry into our world !

 She is now back home, fussing around over the new mother and baby.

She just has one complaint.  She was desperately  hoping against hope that this would be a granddaughter .....

Congratulations to S !


Friday, November 07, 2014

Death, Formalities, and Society.

Death Rites get The Professional Touch

This appeared in the Times of India today.

Those of us who grew up before outsourcing became a word, will understand. 

I just read the article above that appeared in the paper today. I now understand why death services need to be outsourced. 

I have lived in a Institutional Campus  all my  adult life. I have had the honor of being the caretaker, and looking after the elders in the family , who lived with me, in their last days.  Twenty , thirty years ago,  one discovered , that there were some dedicated folks in the community , who made it their duty, to assist families, who had just lost a dear family member.   Word would get around, and these folks, who were actually proper employees of the place where one worked,  would appear silently,  offer condolences, and then quietly talk to responsible family members about anything they could help with.  It could be about acquiring the necessary paperwork, organizing the infrastructure for carrying the body,  requesting for hearse services,  contacting those who conduct religious services. This was all done quietly, as the family came to terms with the sudden loss,  the visitors ,  the folks from outstation who struggled to reach, and the enquiries about last rites.  I remember , a bus being quietly organized and appearing at our doorstep, when it looked like several folks wished to be present for the last rites at the crematorium.

A quiet chat with the concerned gentleman later revealed that he did this as social work. His way of helping .  Quietly.  He had a team who worked with him. Quietly.  In the days before cell phones, and  loss of MTNL supremacy, he magically was able to contact the necessary folks .

A few years later, we heard that he had passed away.   

My mother passed away rather suddenly, 14 years ago, in one of Mumbai's leading Municipal Hospitals, where she received outstanding emergency treatment and care  in the ICCU. She always believed, that people created excellence, and not just technology or machines. Always someone who applauded honest work, and integrity in the face of spurious commercial and human solutions, and didn't hesitate  to say so up front, she abhorred the corrupt practices that were creeping into day to day living, and had a running fight with such folks.     

Numerous folks from outstation and the city,  gathered at the crematorium to pay their respects, and were a great source of support in a situation, where there were just 3 members of the immediate family.   There was all kinds of paperwork , and we were required to present a cremation certificate at the gate, along with a fee , which would then be forwarded  to the concerned ward office for generating the required Death Certificate ,  within a week or so.

Just when I was about to submit the required cremation certificate at the exit booth, , someone suggested paying something substantially more than the published fee. To expedite things, it seems.

I pretended not to hear that. I was livid.   My Mom would have been greatly upset, it would be insulting to her memory and everything she stood for.  I paid the fee prescribed in big letters on the notice on the wall. As per rules.

To cut a long story short, the crematorium folks did not forward the certificate to the ward office, even a month after the cremation. There are so many situations where one needs to show this certificate , but  I patiently waited.   Repeated trips to the ward office every week, elicited the same response. They had not received the crematorium report.

 I decided to take matters into my own hands and go visit the crematorium , and question them and demand answers and action.  Maybe other folks would learn what was going on.

 That's when some colleagues got alarmed at the possible scenario that could develop, and decided to help, and  explained the situation to a gentleman in the community where we lived, who frequented the ward and other offices, to help folks.  

He was aghast and asked for a week. Made some visits and calls. And the required paperwork  was delivered to me in a week.

It is like a slap on the face to learn that we must now pay a bribe to be declared dead. 

While the noble individuals who made it their vocation to help are no more, It is reassuring to know that there  are social organizations  now, who will "manage" everything for a fee.  Probably a sign of the times, and possibly a need of the times we live in. With a constantly changing society profile , thanks to nuclear families, immigration, inflationary living, and  other so called signs of having come up in the world.

Like everything else,  dying costs.  

There are now standards to be followed in holding memorial meetings, religious observances by those who insist on them, and so on.   Strangely,  one often finds that there is a lack of standards of respectful behaviour  for the departed, amongst those whose   official job is to help with their last voyage. Yes, there are exceptions. But few.

I read through the entire well written, very informative  article in the Times of India. 

Somewhere, there was a quiet sigh,  when it said, they also take care of getting the certificate for you.

And a fervent hope, that at some point, outsourcing of things should never ever have to include mourning and respect....


Thursday, November 06, 2014

Serious learnings.....

The word "serious" has suddenly become seriously important.  And although a recent usage was additionally adorned with waving of hands, shoving of electronic implements, associations with dry fruits ,  and a glare, one may think of several scenarios where some one's seriousness can be , what else, seriously questioned, without any movements of solid items and clickable contraptions.

Just think.

You read in the papers about tomatoes selling wholesale for 7 Rs a kilo.  You still have a day before you do your weekly vegetable shopping, but this is too good to pass up. You rush to the local mandi with your recyclable bags, and insert the tomato question between  the karelas and lauki selections.  "40 Rs a kilo, auntyji"  , he says, "Kitna kilo ?"  ,  as he concentrates on  throwing papdi on the weighing scale.

And I can only look back , mouth agape, and then quickly close it just as quickly, to ask him "Are you serious ?"  (Notice that I don't grab the tomato or fling it at him)....

Another time, two law abiding , tax paying ,old ladies, are driving out of a gated community and finding themselves more than 70 percent across a huge wide crossing, they continue on as the traffic light turns yellow. It is just that there is a huge tree right in front of the signal, and peering thru the green foliage while driving might endanger several pedestrians. Suddenly , a vision in uniform looms ahead, waving them to the side. Windows down, a conversation ensues.  There is a presumed receipt book and a pen in the hand of a traffic cop.  He asks for the driver's licence. Then asks if no one noticed the signal .

The two  old ladies get off. Rise to their full five feet something height.  One of them has a cane. They ask the cop to accompany them to the middle of the crossing.  They need to show him how the lush foliage  of the tree blocks the traffic signal.  He tries to pooh pooh their talk. Doesn't succeed.  Tree cutting is not their job and needs permissions. The ladies insist that signal situating is clearly the cops'  job. The entire drama is watched by the roadside small shops and vendors. The cop knows when he should change tactics.  He starts waving, blowing the whistle and directing the traffic. When suddenly one of the ladies points to several bikes without helmeted drivers cruising by, and questions him as to whether he saw them . And why isn't he stopping and charging them.   He looks at them with a mixture of pleading and surprise as if to say "Are you serious ?" Why don't you just go...?" .   

Another day in the life of a normal working woman.

She comes back to work after an absence of 2 months, where leave has been duly applied for, sanctioned , and taken.  Goes to the bank, only to find out that her salary has not been credited , despite this being paid leave or earned leave, as it is called. The bank says they credit whatever is presented to them in a monthly list . So she goes to the administration/accounts  department of her employer. and asks around as to why her salary has been withheld.

Then someone sweetly smiles at her, and says , " You see, Mrs XXX is on leave for Ganpati, and  she handles your stuff.  Once she returns, your salary will  be immediately credited. ...."  .   This is a government office.  A lot of stuff frowned upon elsewhere, gets smiles here.  Except from her.

She shakes her head. She has just spent half a working morning trying to figure out why they withheld her salary.  She simply  takes a deep breath, and gives the sweet smiling person a  wide eyed "Are You serious ? " look, and slowly walks away.......
And then there are the funny days.

She goes swimming daily, and no one gives her a second look, as she huffs and puffs through her laps. There are many like her, desperately trying to fight a war between intake and weight, and most folks at the pool who are regulars and serious about swimming, respect her efforts, and let her be.  One day she finishes her stuff, and sits back in the gallery to wait for a friend, only to run into an ex-neighbor.

"Aap ko yeh sab (~swimsuit) daalke  idhar udhar karne ko sharam nahi lagti ?"  the neighbor asks, wrapping her palloo on both shoulders.

" Kya hai na , aadat pad gayi hai. Jabhi mai swimming suit pehenti hoon, tab khud ko Madhuri Dikshit samajhke pool me jaati hoon....." 

The neighbor almost gets apoplexy, imagining an intersection of a podgy lady and Madhuri Dikshit,  doesn't know what to say or believe, and simply looks at her with a shocked OMG look that says " You and Madhuri Dikshit ?  Are you serious ?"     :-)   

And yet, while one comes to terms with things like rushing somewhere in the rain using three modes of transport, and then finding out that the event is cancelled,  or having a person scrape your car while overtaking you, only to shout at you  and make unsavoury comments about your perfectly good driving; or even a simple withdrawal transaction in a bank, for which they make you go to three different people,  at three different desks, because they have issues with each other; one simply avoids confrontations of the "Are you serious? "  type.   In the interests of peace.   


Just however. If someone gave me crores, and said, "here, take this, and use it to buy something from us !"  , I would go into a frightened trance, stare at the person, suspect his/her motivation and connections,  immediately refuse vehemently, and wordlessly mouth the immortal words , " Are you serious ? Are you serious ?"   and disappear from the scene.........

I guess I am in a stupid minority. 

Smart folks smile, take the stuff, use it to make more money, and then use the "serious" question as an answer if someone questions.


Saturday, November 01, 2014

Bank, Banker, and WYSIWYG......

Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.
                                                                                  --Charles Swindoll.

There are banks. And there are bankers.

Sometimes the banks are more important than the bankers who purport to manage things.

And sometimes, the bank gets it reputation  from the banker .

Most banks start out with not much assets of their own. By definition, the banks  get deposits from their customers, which they say they specialize in investing, for good returns.  As they build up their holdings, they also offer loans to people, and charge them interest.  House loans, educations loans, vehicle loans.  For some folks, the bank even offers  deals where people can withdraw money even when they don't have sufficient balance.

Many times,  the banks are unable to get back their loans for various reasons. For some loan recoveries, official letters are sent implying dire consequences, or they hire people who intimidate customers. On the other hand, if a customer comes into money unexpectedly and wishes to pay of a loan earlier, some banks make you pay for that too. As a person in debt, you must follow rules, not change them .

And when some of their own investments (the bank's) go awry, they are simply called NPA (non performing assets) and added to a list .  Sometimes, someone  in higher echelons indicates something, and all kinds of loans made to specially powerful  kinds of folks, are written off. No one really learns a lesson.

And yet, these banks often find money to get a face lift, with newer features, like machines , decor, fancy designations,  id neck pieces for employees, and so on.  Transparent glass partitions are introduced, behind which , sometimes ,non transparent transactions get done. There are auditors to audit their financial behaviour.  But hardly anyone audits management attitudes. 

Such banks deal in crores, and mention anything in  crores like you and I mention  roasted chana or bhel.  

I will call this Bank A.

But then there are other banks. Like Bank B. Single official banks. With amazing bankers.

Sometimes they have their own assets, sometimes held jointly with another entity.  These are clubbed together . These banks don't beg customers for deposits.  They do monthly analysis on how much can be put by themselves in a savings deposit. 

Yes, they do have folks asking for loans.  No recommendations from outside folks,  but the banking folks ensure they know their customer well. No KYC, no Adhaar, no photos. But a good study of the customer's need, trustworthiness, and character. A flexible pay back system. Sometimes automatically deducted by the bank every month.  Early sudden paybacks of loans are encouraged and enhance the customers loan worthiness. No penalties for early paying back of loans.

The bank even ascertains expenditure profiles of customers without having them fill forms.  Any expenditures related to alcohol,  abuse of household women  and gambling , and the customers get blacklisted and loans refused.   Expenditures related to education of children and elder care , are encouraged. These banks very rarely generate non performing assets, because there is a proper monitoring of how resources of the bank are spent.  In fact, many times , the bank functions as a de facto counselor  for troubled customers, and slowly brings them back in line.

These banks too, often imagine getting a renovation.  But more often than not,  the budget doesn't allow it.  There are no interest payments coming in from debtors.  Daily transactions are checked with an eagle eye, with a keen eye on the market situation, and investments in perishables and non perishables are astutely managed. These banks make planned savings for emergencies.  There are no glass partitions needed.

Yes, there are no auditors either, because these banks self-audit.  And file returns with the government every year.  They never declare NPA's (Non Performing Assets), because  they value their assets, work endlessly to get them to perform, and learn  to be useful entities in society.

Bank A has fancy designations, and everyone has perks and wears formals.   It does mergers and acquisitions in its pursuit of power, and sometimes even changes names. And pens for their customers' use are tied to shelves with chains, just in case a customer goes off with one in a hurryThey expect us to trust them with our money, but do not trust us with their pens. You see these banks everywhere. Existing and being monitored under the benevolent eye of the RBI.  Folks can ask questions about this bank in Parliament.

Bank B, has only one designation. Woman-of-the-house.  No perks. Except possibly a better and honest environment.  The mergers and acquisitions  also happen sometimes, and sometimes names are also changed( though it is never mandatory), but these are never in the pursuit of power, and simply enhance the bank ethos. Any number of pens are available for customers' use, and sometimes the bank even teaches illiterate customers how to sign their name in their language of convenience.  You see these banks daily, and again, almost everywhere.  They don't need an RBI, because they self regulate, and delegate duties down the years, so new trained folks emerge.

In Bank B , no one really wears formals.  And no one dares to ask any questions about Bank B in Parliament.

They don't need to create an image.

What You See Is What You Get.   

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Embedded Divalis....

This morning began with a friend from Delhi posting pictures of Thalipeeth,  a Marathi traditional dish she made for breakfast.  I had sent her some sample flour or bhajani as we call it. Bhajani means a  mix of various roasted grains and lentils, which are then made into flour. (bhajane  ~ marathi for roasting).

This friend has cultivated an amazing garden, where she grows all kinds of vegetables and greens, and the last hour has been spent discussing on twitter about various yum thalipeeths that can be made from stuff in her garden. Some other nostalgic folks  also joined in the "thalipitwitter".....

Thalipeeth bhajanis were always there in every house,  and Chakli  Bhajanis , again a roasted  specific mixture mostly made around Divali,  have had a pride of place in Marathi households.  

 Way back in the days when mixers and blenders were not mandatory, folks knew how to grind stuff on the chutney stone (pataa  warwantaa) , at some point in my childhood my Mom did a revolutionary purchase. She bought a big flour grinder (it stood  up to her waist, and had a 2 feet by 2 feet cross section).  A friend from Ahmedabad had one, her theplas were out of this world, and my Mom bought this thing and had it delivered  in Pune. Inside was an actual horizontal circular stone grinding contraption like those used in rural areas; except it had some smart levers you used to raise and lower the gap between stones, for your requirements of rawa, fine flour etc etc, and someone in her 60's could handle it very easily.  My Mom developed expertise in  opening the machine and tightening and changing the fan belt, not to mention fine-tuning the gap between the two circular chutney stones.

Wheat flour chapaties and jowar bhakris were daily fare, and they simply tasted different made from freshly ground grains, without excessive heat as a by product.

Thalipeeth bhajani and Chakli Bhajani , the roasted mixtures , were made on occasions, and many friends of my Mom would partake of the excellent ground flour.

The only downside was when Pune started having power shutdowns.  Making Bhajanis and fresh jowar flour an hour before meals, became a bit difficult, as you never knew when the power would go off.

However, sometimes, when someone wished something  really hard, and the someone happened to be my Mom,  the Universe often made it happen. 

She was travelling out of Pune to visit me,  and since folks in my house loved chaklis, she decided that fresh chaklis were the order of the day. Our longtime (40 years) household help  was there to help.  All of a sudden , in the middle of the penultimate batch of roasted grains, the power went off.   For a minute, there was silence, and upset faces.

Never one to give up, my Mom went to the terrace to find out if someone was doing repairs or this power outage was random.  The next thing was that out household help, was sent out to contact some guy on an electric pole nearby, with a request to just connect things for 10 minutes, so she could finish her grinding. The repair chap had probably never heard someone asking him such things while balancing precariously on the electric pole.   

But our household help must have explained the need, and the repair man probably had a married daughter in another town, and he understood.  

The power was reconnected  for 10 minutes. My Mom finished the grinding, and our household help, waved to the guy on the pole, to let him know.  Whereupon, the fellow disconnected the power again ....

The Chakli bhajani was ready, the fresh chakalis were promptly made, cooled, packed in some airtight dabbas with paper between the lid and the dabba, and duly lugged in a train that same evening, along with assorted sweet stuff and home grown jamuns nestled in a basket amidst jamun leaves.

The guy on the electric pole came by to share a cup of tea and chakli with our household help after his work was done.  

Long long time ago,  at Diwali, there were no ready made things in shops, no malls, no buy-one-get-one-free, and no sales.

Long long time ago, Divali  in Maharashtra  , among other things like lamps, poojas, new clothes, crackers,  dawn baths,  fragrant oil massages,  was about enjoying yummy home made Faraal items, like  Chakli, Chiwdaa, Kadboli, Anarse, Ladoos, and Karanjis.

For me, it was always Divali when my Mom visited us like this.  Any time of the year.

The Chaklis had a fresh Divali embedded in them.



Monday, October 20, 2014

Review of "God is a Gamer" by Ravi Subramanian

I received this book, "God is a Gamer" by Ravi Subramanian , as part of the Blogadda Book Reviews Program.

I had enjoyed "The Bankster" by the same author and so looked forward to reading this one.

As in previous books, this one too, involves  a bank. It also introduces one to something called Bitcoins, which is like international virtual currency, and this concept is really the heart of this novel. The people who introduced these, the people who manage these, and the people  who misuse these range far and wide across countries, banks, government, universities, investigative agencies, fundamentalists and so on , ranging internationally across Washington DC, New York, Mumbai and Delhi.  Phishing, which is something  that we all know is one of the side effects of doing things online, is also a major part of the narrative.

The story revolves around a huge cast of characters.  In India and the US.

A lady CEO of a leading bank, Malavika, and another senior functionary , Swami of the same bank, who cannot stand her and suspects her of being involved in unsavoury money transactions, and secret personal alliances.  The lady CEO's daughter, Tanya, who really comes across as someone who thinks she is playing her cards so well.  Then there is a person, Aditya, who is no longer with the bank and is the head of the biggest BPO in India, and is assisted by a person called Sundeep , who seems to be a bit of old-style. Then there is  Varun, Aditya's son, who suddenly appears from a jail in Goa, and takes over the BPO company successfully .  For some reason, he seems to know Tanya from before, and it is only towards the end that we learn why. 

In the US, we have the President himself, and his Chief of Staff , Mike.  Predictably, a Senator too, Gillian Tan along with his wife Nikki, and a daughter Gloria with surprising antecedents.   Then there are agents of the CBI/FBI, Adrian/Tony,  and a clever old hand  Dan Malloy who always comes up with smart solutions.

As if to link these folks , we have a fellow called Josh, who has evolved from an earlier avatar in India,  dabbled in all kinds of things and dicey folks, and currently is in the US, as the Sysad of a site specialising in drugs, pornography, and similar things, all paid for in Bitcoins, in a way, that the transactions are untraceable.

The novel revolves around bank phishing attempts in India  , and ATM heists using cloned credit cards in new York, causing losses of millions of dollars in the US and in the aforementioned Bank in India.  The BPO, which creates and does business in computer games, finds itself facing losses, and is conveniently taken over by Varun, who has lots of ideas up his sleeve that involve, things like Facebook.

There are murders, presumed suicides, supposedly corrupt ministers, ambitious upper rung institutional folks in government,  the mandatory Mumbai police.

Somewhere, one gets the feeling that there are too many characters.  The novel though proceeds at a brisk pace, across continents, maintaining high reader interest. The chapters in the book, are small in size, and very nicely edited. The book maintains reader interest throughout, and despite gaming, and bitcoins and such stuff being of minimum interest to me personally,  I found it enjoyable.

And yet, as a person, who grew up thinking games were something you played physically for recreation ,  and still think, computers are being misused for mindless games,  I am unable to figure out where God came into this.

God is NOT a Gamer.  He just helplessly watches them  play......

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014


There is a tree inside all of us.

Emerging green from the moist dark labyrinths,  it is about a childhood, spent pretending to play with the wind, without realizing that one  tended to bend with it. It is also about observing what other tree folks did around you. Some bent and learned to straighten up, albeit slowly. Some simply crashed, and would be helped up and supported for a while. And some, pushed their roots deep in, and stood firm, as they could, in the wind.

It is about a teenage, when you think you have your feet roots firmly in, you notice others, big and small around you, and you marvel at the color of the others,  slowly developing amidst the green anatomy.  A teenage, when you firm up your base and spine, and realise that to be a real tree, you must take responsibility for those branches, and leaves and flowers that are to come later, thanks to your nurturing , using the wonderful sap from the earth, and the air above.

A settling in, well established now with branches taking you out into the world, , leaves spouting like ideas, sometimes in great order and sometimes in a bouquet; and flowers, introducing a new life stage , where it isn't all about the tree, but how it relates to other trees around. 

This is when the tree learns . That life is often about spreading your branches wide , to bring shelter and shade to those traumatised by the Heat of Life. That life is about offering your branches as a place for settling down, for those temporarily looking to build a home. That life is never perfect, and it is sometimes about scars created by those who get their joy from breaking you and cutting you.  That life still gives you hope again, as you dig deeper into your roots, get encouraged, and rebuild all over again.

That , on a good day, life is often about being the cynosure of other tree eyes, as fruits and buds adorn it, and admiring bees and birds home into the tree.  Being part of the Society Of Trees, means sharing the pollen across the land.

Sometimes, some trees have willful anatomical members. Tough looking roots, that grow the wrong way, down from the sky, to anchor themselves again in the soil. Perhaps, they know, that the tree is going to be widely admired , and of great social good, and needs all the support it can get.

And then again, life is all about birthing a fruit, nurturing it and then watching it move away.  Sometimes, simply misled by a pretty bird to fall down, sometimes carefully taken away by another fruit, and sometimes just a result of facing the rage of nature in torrential winds and rain.

Sometimes the fruits travel far and wide, and change in ways that cannot be imagined.  Sometimes, they mature earlier than usual, thanks to unsavoury chemical friends. And the tree sighs in the wind, and shakes down a few leaves and wonders what kind of world misleads and spoils.

And then again, it must decide, whether to welcome  an occasional  new attachment, a latching-on prior to a future meshing-in. There is much to teach the new attachment, and much to learn from it. And much to teach those around watching it all.

It is often about how to treat others living in your shadow.  About sharing your root resources with them.  About sharing what you have even when not enough.

Sometimes, it is about not hiding your emotions , and realising how it helps in stressful times, like the fall season before winter, when some folks simply turn an angry orange or a stubborn brown.  And realising, that these days too, must always pass.

It is difficult to be constantly aware all the time, worrying about everything and everyone.

And then once again, it learns, to look up at the sky,  gathering all its geriatric high branches together, and endeavours to put the previous life behind.

It has been an interesting, tough, occasionally thrilling, gratifying life. it is time to withdraw from the worries of growth and the occasional shaking of beliefs.

It is time to thank the stars for not meeting a woodcutter at any point,  though , it is , of course,  possible , that one may cease to exist given the  cement and concrete greed  that has recently appeared on the horizon.

It is now time to forget the growing, the tears, the smiles, the ambitious neighbors, and the newly developed sometimes creaky trunk.

It is clearly, time to simply look up at the sky, and celebrate the blue, and the gold as you smile at the One who put you there in the first place ...... 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tucking in.....

Boggling.  I know. I am not missspelling "blogging".....

It is difficult to define "boggling" , but the mind sure does that,  when I look back at the history of fashion, and how it has shaped society , in my lifetime.

I remember preparing to go to college in the mid sixties of the last century. I was to stay in the hostel, and a large bunch of gathered skirts (below the knees), with assorted matching blouses were promptly stitched, along with a few sarees with matching blouses, just in case. Since I played decent college level badminton, a white pleated divided skirt and a shirt, were the unlikely additions. It was understood that you didn't wander anywhere outside the badminton court in these short skirts.  Childhood pajamas graduated to housecoats as was the fashion in the hostel.

The very next year, it was decided that it was time to be sari-fied. One would be a full time sari person, and the wardrobe got replenished with all kinds of petticoats,  and standard cotton sarees. The sleeves ,necks, and lengths  of blouses were all predecided and long. And it didn't matter if you had to cycle each day .

Unfortunately, the very next year, chudidar kurtas suddenly came into fashion. Midriff cover won over parental approval, and all of a sudden , for the next two years, I was back to churidar kurtas, and occasional skirts.  Various relatives got great joy out of  commenting derogatorily on the skin tight aspect of chudidars.  I was even asked by aunt types , amidst guffaws , how long it took to put on one. Notice, that the parents said nothing, because they trusted me.

Around the time I graduated, pants happened. There were a lot of disapproving glances, or maybe, they were jealous glances. Pants were so much easier to wear than chudidars.

Across the last half century, fashion has really,  for the common person, revolved around skirts, blouses, kurtas, salwars, churidars, pants, shirts and sarees. The lengths have gone up and down, usages have been modified, things earlier thought of as shameless, are suddenly being touted as fashionable.

Today fashion is about redefining. 

Once all the neck shapes were tried, they tried no-necks.  What was earlier the neck, kind of expanded and sat on the arms, unable to decide whether to be a sleeve or a neck. Internal anatomic anchoring was still required, and all of a sudden, visible bra straps became fashionable. Just to be different, they then created a market for detachable plastic straps.

Unable to dip further in front, the saree blouse necks dipped alarmingly at the back.  Prompting someone (a male) , at a fancy do, to remark on an outfit (after a back view of the same),  as something with "only sleeves".

The downward trend continued. Pants slipped down the god given waists, which were a natural anchor . They now started at the hips, and were called low-waist pants. For the sake of staying on, they had to cling close to the skin.  At the ankle, out of sheer relief, they sometimes flared, sometimes straightened, and sometimes, preferred to keep gutlessly clinging.

While this caused  a lot of mirth, disgust and sometimes, bright eyes, in buses where you had to bend and sit,  the gents fashion people joined in with pants that were worn so low, it looked as if the person was waddling, and probably needed a good sensible whack and a pair of suspenders.     

If you look back, you will notice that fashion has been all about kurtas rising high and sinking way below. Salwars, blooming in Patiala comfort, or crunching miserly, or finally ending up being chudidars.  Dupattas , when they existed, often became stoles; and sometimes fell about gracefully.  Shoulders suddenly became fashionable, and sleeves disappeared, to anchor the outfit behind the neck.

Pants , with not much scope for wild fashion, suddenly gave in to the scissors. It is today, considered fashionable, to pay loads of money to buy a pair of pants, which have scissor cuts and  hanging threads , all across the front.  The last time I saw these were when nitric acid fell on someones pants in our college chemistry practicals, destroying a perfectly decent pair.

These are now called distressed genes, which is a disgusting an example of transposition of adjectives. I know someone who might be even more distressed.  The lengths of pants too went up and down. In the original well defined old world of full pants and half pants, we now had three fourth pants (fashionably called Capris; (why use Greek cities, what was wrong with calling them Kolhapurs?))  , and knee length pants, prompting my aunt to once ask someone if he was short of fabric.

And then we had Fashion Weeks. Days and Days of showing stuff you could never wear to work, or while running to catch the  7:30 am CST fast, or the standing room only bus, chock a block with office goers and students.  I mean, who would wear long trench coats, with buttons open, displaying some hot pants and fancy shirt inside ?  And when was the last time you saw a lady with a saree , and a palloo on the wrong shoulder, hanging like a marxist shabnam bag, trying to take public transport to work?  I mean, even in a AC car, that outfit to work would be too much.  And then there were outfits inspired by the combination of fabrics seen on the municipal sweeper lady;  two different pieces, used to fashion a make shift saree, because she must prioritise her funds towards the kids school fees, and deny herself  a new saree.

The fashion types, wore heels , something completely useless in a potholed city.  And then again, hats were introduced, incorporating hardware, flowers, twigs, plastic, and anything you could lay your hands on; in a city bent on destroying trees, the only thing that worked for the hoi polloi were good plain cotton hats.          

Sarees were de rigeur when I started working. And so one learnt to run and catch buses and trains amidst massive crowds with suitably anchored sarees, with palloos wrapped and tucked in here and there,  while our mothers rued the destruction of saree fabric with so many pins that were used. And very unconsciously , one learnt to tuck in the palloo at the waist, after taking it around the back.

This became such a habit, that even after I started working at a place within walking distance from home, with a lot of corridors, and interaction on two feet,  a friend with similar thinking and I, would unconsciously tuck in our saree palloos and walk rapidly down the corridors , to have a cup of tea, or on work to another building, often the butt of comments and jokes , from those, who walked the corridors, utterly gracefully in sarees with fancy palloos draped just so, and disciplined pleats.

The tucked in palloo stance needs further research. Maybe someone can study the origin and history. Maybe they will have a Fashion Week session dedicated to it.   A further piece of fashion could be pleats slightly hitched up  and tucked in , a la monsoon rains.  I am sure there will be people planning zardozi or swarovski on the palloo ends, and petticoat bottoms.  

So folks, here is a request.

When you see the show stopper actress, walking down hand and hand with the designer, as the models with tucked in palloos and hitched pleats, clap politely in the background , remember , that you heard it here first.....

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Pavlovs, Neuros and Living in Mumbai....

I have been a vehicle driver in India for the last 47 years. Four wheelers and two wheelers. Highways and congested gullies. By myself, and at times, with an entire gaggle of folks crowding the vehicle, in "zara sarkun ghya"  (~move and make place for one more) style.

Till now , it has never stressed me. The driving still does not.  What is now very stressful, is the change in the people on the road, be they fellow drivers, pedestrians or whoever.

One hears of someone getting enraged by the honking of someone behind them, stopping, emerging from the car and then picking a fight complete with fisticuffs and injuries.  One hears of some one's ego being hurt by an overtaking vehicle, and someone coming out from a car with a knife to avenge the insult.  One hears about underage kids with fake licenses driving recklessly scraping cars, resulting in the aggrieved people losing tempers, shouting  and getting breathless attacks.

Two days ago, at a major traffic intersection on an east west arterial road  of Mumbai, one was crossing the road, along with a team of young fellows carrying cricket bats and stumps  at the red signal.  The cricketwallas suddenly  questioned some bikers who had strayed way beyond where they were supposed to stop.  The bikers got off, attacked the guys, who retaliated with their cricket stumps. The thing deteriorated into a free for all, with assorted supporters of the cricket types joining in, and both sides viciously beating each other up, paying scant attention to folks trying to separate the two sides. No cops were anywhere nearby. 

I wonder what makes people do this.  What makes their brains go off at a tangent ,  where thought ceases to matter and animal instincts take over ?   Why do people feel threatened when questioned ?  What do they fear ?

A study of "why fear happens"  introduces the various brain parts involved in handling a threat or fear. 

Faced with some fear trigger, unconsciously  we process this in two ways.

The first , is the so called "low road" , where the Thalamus that senses the trigger, simply rushes the information to the Amygdala, which sets off the fight or flight response in the body, complete with raging hormones, rushing blood and what have you. 

The second way, is for the Thalamus to forward the sensed thing to the parts of the brain, that activate memories, and reasoning, trying to observe the environment and figure out why something has been sensed, and advise the Amygdala accordingly, to cool it or whatever.  This is like the "high road" where you take an informed decision as opposed to a kneejerk reaction to a fear stimulus.

One of the reasons we see the "low road" being chosen time and again in today's society, is because  we now replicate the parts of the brain in today's society.  

The thalamus senses the incoming trigger, and decides on the high road or low road.

If it is the high road, the sensory cortex tries to analyse the the cause and possibilities.  And sends its findings to the Hippocampus. 

The Hippocampus is the stable experienced elder, that tries to analyze things and take an informed decision on the threat taking into consideration, its observations,memories, learnings and history.

Both the high and low roads, end up at the Amygdala. Both with different instructions on how to react. 

 The Amygdala is the hothead. It decodes emotions, perceives threats, and stores fear memories.  And sets off what is called the "Fight or Flight" response.

Today's life is all about taking the low road. Young impressionable Thalamuses , influenced by political gundas, money matters and quick returns, continue to ignore stable and sage advise from  Sensory cortexes and Hippocampuses in society.    So many powerful Amygdalas in society just itching to get into a fight.

And the brain evolves. Over a period of time.  To think less and mindlessly act more.

Being thus , seriously conditioned.

I am not sure if Evolve is the right word. Maybe Devolve

Back in 1920, psychlogist John Watson,  managed to train an infant to fear white rats.  The infant actually enjoyed playing with the rats, but Watson , using Pavlovian techniques associated the appearance of the white rat with loud fearful noises, and managed to condition the child to fear white rats.  The child's Amygdala avidly learned and stored all this. And the child ended up fearing anything white and furry including Santa Claus' beard. This stayed so for more than 20 years.

Our politicians are our Pavlovs.  The young today are being conditioned to give knee jerk responses, so valuable in vote banks.

Sometimes, old folks like me tend to take the high road. We observe, watch, draw from experience and history , and decide that it is better to stay away, from those drunk on an unfortunate ill advised  "fight" response.

I sometimes wish there was a 3rd alternative to "fight or flight".

Like "wait" .

Who knows?    The neuro types might still discover it ......



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ruminations of a young aging mind....

Today's , (Sept 22, 2014 ) Times of  India, highlights an article titled  "Can menopause be erased in 20 years ? "...........

It has been a while since I have crossed the peak and started on the downward descent characterized by a big morcha of cells in my body, marching and/or swimming around (as the case may be) ,   carrying banners saying "Estrogen, Go back!".

 For a long time , it looked like the cells were losing badly.  I suffered immeasurably in the bloody skirmishes. You could call these the First and Second Endometrial Wars of Independence.  Energy loss, anaemia , all coinciding with the busiest part of life as we know it in middle class India.

At some point, the endometrium, like the British, gave up. And I celebrated Independence.  Menopause. 

Which is why, when I read the above article in the newspaper, I gulped.  It was like being colonized once again. 

The article refers to research being done at the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation, in Northern California. Senescence is a posh word for Aging. And the work is about finding a gap between when metabolic damage happens in our bodies , and the subsequent permanent pathologies, so that some re-engineering can be done with , say, stem cell therapies .

Stem cells , to put it simply, are "trained" cells, that carry algorhythms for a type of growth. Some offer a wide range of applicability and are called pluripotent stem cells. And some, are special purpose. Like, for example, stem cells, that when injected in a cardiac patient, will help to regenerate the heart muscle, and get things pumping normal once again. 

I do not understand this obsession with aging. 

And the obsession with having a world class uterus, ovary, and tubes like that of your twenties, when you are sixty. I actually know of someone who swore by HRT(hormone replacement therapy) to avoid the perils of menopause, and exulted in  sense of youngness, lesser grey hair et al. True, acquiring a suddenly new set of functioning ovaries, means child bearing then will have no age limit. With your reproductive hormones in full flow, women will presumably age slower.  And with no menopause, women will clearly have the various built in protections  related to cholesterol and osteoporosis and so on.

But I have a question. 

Unlike minds that are obsessed with opposing ageing in an individual, the organs of our body, are part of a set. The members of the set, the various other body organs, are all linked via arteries, veins, nerves, muscles and lymph. Even if you give a new lease of life to the ovaries, and thus the reproductive system, what happens to the rest of the body?  How do aging muscles handle an abnormally young uterus?  How do you handle old blocks in arteries that have built up over the years  and aging walls of the blood vessels? Will this sudden emphasis on one system, get compensated by afflictions to some other part of the body, which is still in original form, and not the new and improved version ? 

Like the human body, we as a society and as a people, have a life span, where we live in interaction with those around us. Sometimes, we are kids, sometimes we are teenagers, , sometimes family people, and sometimes geriatric folks.  Life is all about interacting with those around us, in different roles.  No one really grows up  unconnected. No man is an island.  And it is all about building bridges.  Each stage of life is not always about individual perfection. Roles change and mind set-ups change  with age. Levels of patience change. There is learning. Sometimes fresh and new, and sometimes by doing something again and again.  

How much stem cell therapy can you do ?  It's like, how any parts of a car can you change and replace before you find out that it is cheaper to get a new car ?

And if you really want to rectify non functional, or malfunctioning entities, why not work on things like trying  solution for Down's syndrome, various life threatening allergies, cancers and handicaps ? I understand that extensive research is happening  in stem cell therapies for these afflictions. But using stem cell therapies to abolish menopause sounds a  bit narcissistic.

I sometimes like to think of stem cell therapy as something akin to grafting on a plant. You graft a new variety of something on to a branch of a tree, and at some point, the tree and the graft accept each other's good points, and learn to grow as if they belong.  The tree doesn't make an issue of where the graft came from, and the graft is only too happy to be part of a whole system.

There is much for us to learn from this as humans. We still place great emphasis on "my genes", "my blood", "my complexion",  "my DNA", "my chromosomes" etc , and are , disgustingly  for an evolved being, incapable of handling grafts.

What you really need is some stem cells you can implant in minds.  To clean, educate and improve them....

Minds that have gone haywire, minds that are sick, minds that are violent, rigidly selfish minds and so on.  So that all these can get back on track. 

See , there is nothing cosmetic about it. Throughout life, the mind evolves, by interacting and learning. Your thinking actually decides your age better than your biological age. 

And it wouldn't be terribly wrong to say that Aging, really , is a state of mind.....