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 ......