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.....