Saturday, April 30, 2016

Mothers , Fathers and Mothering....


Falling badly sick after decades,  and somewhere in between worrying about housework, delays, running out of provisions, and other mundane stuff you normally did without thinking, you lie in bed at some point, unable to sleep, stinking wet with perspiration, hot in a Mumbai summer, and you sink back to your childhood in time, hankering after that old reassuring hand on your forehead, and much needed rubs on your back,  a gentle nudge to sitting up , leaning against the pillows, and a magical wipe with tepid water that gets you feeling fresh again, fever or no fever. The little glass of limbupani-ginger, or chaas; the small semi liquidy portion of freshly ghee tadka-ed rice with turmeric and jeera, eaten slowly, under her watchful eye.   

Except it is only a memory. Because the reassuring hand as been gone for more than a decade.  And with it, a certain way of "mothering".

And then. Her story.

She lost her mother when she was a small child. She and her two brothers, one older and one younger were brought up by their father alone. This was the first quarter of the 20th century, and her father refused remarriage , because of his concerns for inflicting a "step-" relationship on his children.


From an extremely difficult, economically tough background, but with a great dedication towards learning, he became an engineer, and rose to a job in the civil services. He got married, had 3 children, and then suddenly was a single parent again.  His only daughter , a middle child, would talk about never missing out on anything the other girls did in school, despite not having a mother at home.   He was posted in Mumbai, and they lived in Andheri for a while. This was in the late 1920's , early 30's , and she would often talk about an certain type of hair braiding the girls would do in school; there was no one at her home who would do that. Her father quietly drove her one early morning to Bandra to visit her aunt, who did the braids for her before she reached her school.  I recall hearing about an elderly aunt who lived with them, and very clearly , for a girl coming of age, there were some puzzling things you needed to get answers for ,  and this worked well for everyone. 

While he indulged in his children, he  was very strict too, and insisted on taking academics seriously. His daughter loved academics , and he encouraged her , not just then but even after she had her first  child , in 1945, and suddenly got an opportunity to do a Masters at Columbia accompanying her husband who was going for Graduate studies in the US. He looked after his 1 year old grandson in India while she completed her stuff.  There were other family "mothers" around,  but few willing to step in like he did . Bringing up his children , particularly a daughter , in those days, when people still sneezed at higher education, he gave  her confidence to go forth and learn, getting her married, settled in, and then basically staying out of the picture as she adjusted herself to a another house with another thinking.

Was this "mothering" ?  Did the daughter imbibe her mothering concepts there ? Do you need to be born with  XX chromosomes to get the magical ability to mother ?   Does being a XY combination make you deficient in mothering ? Is mothering all about indulging ? Is mothering all about sticking and following societal mores ?  Is mothering all about believing in something, something tugging at your heart, and you moving heaven and earth, to ensure that not only does your child get what you think is the best, but also realizes  what went into it , so he/she values what he got?

Perhaps , an  XX combination predisposes you towards mothering,  but it would be wrong  to  equate a social concept like mothering, with  a goulash of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, Oxytocin, Prolactin , Estradiol, and Progesterone,  and possibly others , that we women all automatically get drowned in , as certified "mothers".

That daughter was my mother .  While her instincts might be her own, she picked up her Mothering concepts from her father.  Those of us lucky to have had both father and mother throughout our childhood , take so many things for granted.  

There are so many fathers who mother without us realizing it.

I have known sons who amazingly mothered their own mothers in the evening of their lives. Ensuring after a long day at work, that she didn't feel cold in bed as old people are wont to do, there would always be a hot water bottle waiting for her in bed, and sometimes even giving quick ankle rubs as she lay there, in a quiet chitchat, before he returned to his own different world of kids, projects etc.

And so  life continues.

Those who are not yet mothers also mother .

 I have had occasion to wake up during the  high fevers , to a ready, fresh hot simple meal, cooked by a very young family member;  you wouldn't know the pleasure of being given a cold cut apple in a katori, with a glass of something cool to drink, on a hot afternoon , when you don't know if it's the the fever or the weather that is heating you up, and turning over on your side is actually a chore, and you have just woken up drenched in perspiration.

I  have also been admonished by the same family member for not closing a tap properly , thanks to my tired finger muscles.  

Yes. I think she is learning well.......  

 And then I often wonder about "mothering",  why every single dictionary specifies the inclusion of "mother" while defining it, and things like FB suddenly flare up with mothering "dares", with mothers posting photos with their kids.

Perhaps there are all these imminent Days that we are supposed to celebrate.

Perhaps a presence on social media in an appropriate forum proves something, to God knows who. 

And then when everything is done and "posted", and the brouhaha has subsided, some truths still remain.

It is possible to not have a uterus and still mother . 

It is possible to have a uterus, but insufficient infrastructure, and still "mother".  

Mothering, truthfully, doesn't have much to do  how the child was born. It has much to do with how the child was cared for, and is being cared for.  What the child has imbibed , and taken forward.

This post is dedicated to such folks who have opened my eyes and pointed me to what mothering really is.

It's tough.  Like algebra.  Whether you are XX or XY.  

But if you try hard enough, there is always a great solution.





     

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Fevers, Dreams and Crocodiles


I don't get fevers too often.  I mean, in the last four decades or so, while one has battled all kinds of colds and random infections, even surgeries, there have been no opportunities to lie down reeling with high temperatures, sweating it out every 6 hours , as paracetamol concedes defeat and defers to some antibiotic.

The last time this happened , I was in school. Class 9.  I wrote about it here.  

Coming home from school with a high fever one evening, I had everyone running around in concern, with tepid water spongings, ice-water strips on the forehead, lots of fluids, and the fever refused to abate for four days. I kept going deeper into sleep , and had even our family doctor worried.  Then one morning as they debated about calling in for a second opinion, it seems I suddenly  I started muttering something in a sort of disturbed way, broke into a sweat, and opened my eyes, saying "I'm saved, I'm saved"....   (My mother's version) .

Despite the relief at my awakening, my mother wanted to know what was going on, and it seems I told them of a dream , which was continuously happening. There were two hills on two sides of a valley. The entire valley floor was populated by crocodiles and alligators wandering about in a "lunch" mode. For some reason I was doing continuous desperate jumps from one hill top to the other, across the valley.

I must have been at it for a longish period and gotten complacent. Because during one such jump, I missed out and started descending into the valley, heart in my mouth, terrified, and shaking my head wordlessly screaming NO, NO! .....I could see the greedy alligators below , maybe licking their lips , and suddenly, something held me in a big hand, and stopped the fall. The entire shock must have been too much for the fever, because that's the point at which I opened my eyes, saying"I'm saved! I'm saved !".

I would have left it at that, and attributed it to an extra fertile mind then growing wild under the influence of exciting books .

But it happened again . And made me wonder about my crocodile connection.

After so many decades, last week, the fevers revisited. A week of 102 degrees fever, fatigue, loss of appetite , and loss of taste due to paracetamol, and the prescribed antibiotic did not work. The meds were then changed . Most of the time I was half-asleep, alternating between heat and sweat.

 Very early mornings would be the time when some decent sleep happened,  and one morning, I had a dream in which I looked up at a sunny window bar up on my right, to see a crocodile sitting there. Don't ask me how it got there. I was too stunned to see it. The interesting thing was, as I watched, the crocodile recreated itself in kind of "transformers" style, and continued to sit there, looking at me.

I was relieved to get up and notice that nothing was sitting on the window grill bar.

The dream repeated the following morning.  Once again, the "transformers style" reconstruction of the crocodile. Once again the looking down at me .Once again, I did not question anything, just watched. Possibly I was between two fluid states ; dream and half-awake.

My fever abated that day, and the dream has not reoccurred so far.  I am now on mandatory medication for 14 days, fever or no fever.

But I wonder about my crocodile connection. Between my 2 crocodile dreams , I have lived majorly on the banks of a lake, infested with crocodiles, that occasionally come out to sun themselves on protruding rocks in summer. I have never come face to face with a croc except in my dreams.  (I am not sure I want to come face to face with one anyway ). 

I read about dreams that mention being chased by crocodiles, eaten by crocodiles, fighting a crocodile. But really nothing about crocodiles calmly sitting at a height , of all things, on a window grill bar, itself a circus like situation.

And the "transformers" aspect of the crocodile. It was fascinating yet frightening to  see the rough exterior of the crocodile cracking up and rejoining and reconstructing itself as I watched.  Unlike the earlier childhood fever dream, there was no element of fear .


 The last crocodile dream was almost 55 years ago.  Clearly, I am not going to be around for my next crocodile dream, even  if it might be 20 years from now.

First it was jumping across valleys infested with crocodiles. Now, in keeping with my senior citizen status, there is no jumping , but a sedate watching of crocodiles reconstructing themselves in various avatars on my window grill.

Who knows, the next time around, the crocodile might just digitally smile and sit next to me as i do a blog post , deleting as I write.

I have had it with fevers and crocodiles.  Can we have some dreams with flowers and icecream, and  stuff ?   

These dreams. I wonder what they mean .  I was looking up dream interpretations regarding non violent crocodile appearances.

One site  mentioned that it simply implied that "Seeing a crocodile in dreams indicates that you have not found the meaning of your life yet."

Sometimes they can be so spot on , na ?

Monday, April 04, 2016

Insula Devi of Pain.....

Insula Devi of Pain.

Regardless of religious persuasion, she resides in all of us.  Actually,we actively participate in her life;  an amazing life, which she shares with someone called Prince Amygdala .  Together, they keep watch on how we feel pain, how we interpret stuff happening around us, how we react,  how we learn from what we see and experience , what kind of temper we exhibit,  and how , sometimes, they are helpless , and end up activating the 'gunda' side of things.

Growing up inside our heads, she is very alert, and learns from many things. Mainly the environment in which we grow up. 

If it is an environment where we are constantly threatened , or constantly viewing altercations , whatever the cause, she tends to believe, that's  the way to go, and Amygdala rubs his hands in anticipation.

Sometimes, it is an environment you are helpless about, for whatever reason; social pressures, economic pressures, perceived slights, and even peer pressures.

These actually define the makeup of the Insula Devi in your head, and the simplest thing she can do when a decision is to be made, about any pain, is to let go, mindlessly, with some unnecessary encouragement from Prince Amygdala.

And so if you have battled all your life to get where you are, left your family to keep house and company with those who struggle to maintain a semblance of life amidst inhuman conditions and tweaking morals , earn something which is never enough, and all the while, seeing others do well all around you, the Insula Devi in your head becomes a militant type, given to knee jerk reactions. 

But sometimes, you grow up, in an environment, where you feel secure; there are skirmishes, of course;  but there are reasons discussed, lessons learned, and people around , who ensure that ,  any action is always preceded by some thinking.  Sometimes, you are only human (pun intended) , and you still do knee jerk reactions; but then you are firmly told off, and penalized in some thoughtful way.  You learn not to be intimidated by someone else's successes, or someone different from you, who seems to have a happy  life laid out on a platter.

The Insula Devi is such people's head, is in a much happier situation, she takes decisions regarding pain perception in a different way.  She actually thinks, and also encourages the Amygdala to follow her.  Yes, there is pain, often due to no fault of yours, but there is a stopping-and-waiting-to think-and work-it-out attitude that is present.  Something the Devi learns by habit.

Which brings to mind the Delhi Dentist's case. A young Dentist, home a bit late from work, finds his child waiting to play a few balls with him; they toss around a bat and a ball in a small compound, and a ball, suddenly finds its way out, hitting a passing bike rider.  Altercations ensue. The bike rider goes away and returns with a gang of people with hockey and other sticks. They attack the Dentist and beat him to death.

The law will take its course. As they say.  5-6 people will see even worse environment, in a place populated with everyone even worse than them. They will be decreed, hopefully, a stiff punishment.  So the Insula Devis in other heads might learn.

In the meanwhile, a family stands shattered, a  young mother and a son left to fend for themselves, confused and worried about life and the future.  They too slogged for a future. Studied, passed exams, followed a profession , and, like everyone else ,  had dreams.

The Insular cortex,  seat of Insula Devi and her sidekick Amygdala ,  in our brains, is the seat of feeling/deciding  pain, deciding emotions, and activating responses.  It sits hand in hand with the Amygdala, which more or less acts in a "listen-to-me" fashion. Across our brains, is what is called the Gray matter . Turns out that there isn't enough of gray matter with the Insula Devi , in those folks , that perform gunda reactions.  Researchers have found that youths with behavioural problems, obsessive behaviour, aggression issues and anger have noticeably less grey matter, particularly in their Insula Cortex and Amygdala areas.

So how do we work with that?

 Part of it is a a complicated issue of overpopulation, lack of employment and resources in rural areas, migration, quality of life in cities, and even pollution. It is reported that Toxoplasmosis , caused by a common brain parasite, that gets transmitted via cat feces, undercooked meat and contaminated water, is often the cause of what is called IED or Intermittent Explosive Disorder  , a big cause of road rage . 


While some are complicated huge societal and country issues, one may yet concentrate on something that can be worked on at the personal family level.  For one thing, the proclivity to attribute everything to "beta hai, galti to karega"  must be rubbished.  Gender discrimination must be deemed completely unacceptable at the family level. Parents need to give time to children, and be aware of what they are up to, and who their friends are. And a tendency to mindlessly violently respond must be noticed, recognized and some treatment/corrective action taken.  

A philosophy of constantly  endeavoring to keep up with the neighbor Joneses and trying to match up by any means however shady, must be  discouraged.  Somewhere , a deterrent must develop, that says , "wait, let me think..."

I once lived on a campus with lots of open spaces. And lots of kids, who simply enjoyed all kinds of ball games .  Batting, kicking the ball and running with it. Sometimes , it rolled out on to the roads inside, which we used to walk  to the market.  I was on my way once , amidst a lot of exciting games going on, and all of a sudden there was a quiet, followed by a big thud on my head. A big ball had accidentally fallen on my head. For a minute I was stunned, and then my own Insula Devi calmed me down. I was fine, still standing.  Nothing was wrong and no one had any khunnas against me. Amidst cries of "Aunty, sorry, we didn't see you; are you hurt ...." etc,  I simply turned, smiled at them, said it was just a game and it was OK, and then to every one's surprise, I  tried to kick the ball back to them .  (I've always secretly wanted to do that. :-) ),  much to their vast amusement; it is not everyday, that you see an old lady in a saree kicking a football. 

There have been other times. An ankle hit hard by a "season" cricket ball, while taking a shortcut through Azad Maidan in the monsoons, while Kanga league matches happened all over the place; a fielder kind of looking in worried anticipation, at an old lady noticing the ball, then bending down and performing an almighty throw  to him, and the team members applauding.  I mean when was the last time a cricket team applauded you ?  Actually, your Insula Devi ? 

But this was because right from childhood, sport was a greatly encouraged thing, assorted injuries were part of the sport,  and you did not make a fuss and kept playing the game.  It gave you a very balanced view about what was important. All children , male and female , were given the same careful bringing up where these things were concerned, without special considerations for females.There was no fawning and sighing over what are really routine injuries , we developed a great respect for our bodies' ability to repair and recover.  Yes, parents worried when we were hurt, but it only taught us how to deal with these things.

Your own Insula Devi needs to be nurtured and worshipped in your brain.  There are things one may do to empower her. Research has found that meditation  and stuff like Vipassana,  leads to increase in the gray matter in the area where the Insula Devi and Amygdala  live. Research has also found that  youth with behavioural problems, aggression, drugs habits etc, show a noticeable lack of gray matter in that area.

It is easy to say all this. It is not easy to initiate or implement this, given the problems faced in big cities today, the lack of facilities, various undesirable attractions, and outrageous costs of living.

But I think much can be achieved by mindful bringing up of children;  it is OK to act tough with them at times. Some do this in a binary fashion. They either fawn over their kids , and then lose tempers when something goes wrong ; there need not be physical violence.  Growing up is not about power play.

Today there is  so much politics about religious places,  and the residents of these structures are either forgotten, or used for winning violent arguments.

Why am I not surprised, and is it possibly a sign of the times,  that Insula Devi of Pain remains traumatized in growing number of minds today ?   


 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Tea and Society


This is an ad for Lipton Red label Tea , sourced from Youtube.  It is shown often on regional TV and I have watched it in Marathi.

I often wonder how , when and why things change in our society. If at all they do .  The casting of folks in this ad is so perfect. I have met people like this. Whoever scripted this,  appears to be a great observer of human behaviour and double standards in society. . 


I grew up at a time when there was no TV. Only radio. No ads. Societies then had different standards, that basically trickled down from older days, and "inconvenient"  thinking was blithely pushed away , in favor of good old hand-me-down standards .

   And it intrigues me to think about what kind of reactions this ad might have evoked then , vis a vis , now.

Circa 1950's , the fellow's role would have elicited  nods of approval. "Sensible" conservative thinking,  "prudent" unsmiling  behaviour;  "I-told-you-so" reactions to the wife not able to find the key she is sure she put in her purse; "Pat-on-the-back, that's-my-son"  reactions to the guy coming up with concerns of his wife's knees paining. With a knowing disregard for the timing of that statement.  The woman (wife), with excellent acting skills, highlighting the "Now, wouldn't you know..."  twist the story takes, when they decide to go in for the offered cup of tea.   And so on . 

More than half a century later, circa 2016 ,with millions of channels and TV ads ,   such guys still exist.  The lost key and the need to wait for whoever to land up, is implied as the lady's fault.  Unsmiling reactions to the hospitable neighbor lady.  Then the guy gets distracted by the fragrance of the tea, as it wafts out of the main door of the neighbors. Still maintaining his  unsmiling countenance, he hears his wife say how inviting the smells of tea are, emanating from the neighbor's open front door.   

He could have taken a deep breath, smiled, and said ,"Yes,  so true, why don't we take her up on her offer and share a cup while we wait ? " .  

But no.  The so called image of a benevolent man of the house, must be maintained.  His wife's knees are suddenly in the picture. Her knee pain tugs at his heart springs , or should I say taste buds.  He zeros in on them as an excuse . And very clearly impresses no one when he says "Your knees must be bothering you; lets go into their house and wait. ".  What follows is a hearty tea session with the fellow shamelessly asking for seconds.

 I don't know who he thinks he is fooling.

It tells you nothing has changed in sections of society which attributes  a plethora of qualities to someone the minute he belongs to a certain sex. These sections of society , still applaud the fellow's generosity in showing concern for his wife's knees. And the sudden catapulting and going in for tea ?  Aiiyo, why mention the knees ?  One needs to be thrilled at the feet crossing the threshold to have tea !

I don't think the maker of this ad set out to show a universal truth regarding human evolution in patriarchal societies.

 But every time this ad appears, I get the same reaction.  I just wonder how everyone else reacts and whether anyone is bothered by the fellows opportunistic fake behaviour.

Or am  I, not much of a tea drinker ,  making an unusually big strong brew from a handful bunch of tea leaves ?  


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Minds and Superminds...


Geriatrics was not even a word , in my childhood.

People seamlessly glided from middle age into a senior stage , and thence into a super senior stage .  As the younger folks too simultaneously slid into various roles over the years.  There were elders to turn to for advice, family doctors who knew your three generations who patiently explained things, and it did make accepting the inevitable a bit easier.

I have seen my grandmother in her last days. She was in pain, but coherent in mind, and communicative. Perhaps having a lot of people around keeps you from noticing little things.

My father lived well into his late eighties, and survived my mother by six years. Hers was a completely unexpected instant passing away, and we took a long time coming to terms with it.

As an extremely fit person, who confounded his doctors by his recovery from a very bad herniated disc solely by exercise, as a lifelong practitioner of yoga, meditation, naturopathy and ayurveda,  and a published  writer in Marathi , on subjects like popular science, the US, and health issues, it was perhaps traumatic and confusing for him to realize that age was catching up, that too at 87. 

First it was a fall, then a aortic aneurysm diagnosis , and BP medication. He more or less rubbished all of it, continued his physical activities. His doctor alerted us to the aneurysm size, and the need for someone to be with him at all times.  I was his only child resident in the country, his sole caretaker, and  since he refused , in fine stubborn parental tradition, to come stay with me in Mumbai, I did the frequent commuting from Mumbai  , trying to juggle a job, children's board exams, and all kinds of stuff.

For someone who was always learning and writing , almost on a daily basis , I was surprised to see him one day, surrounded by his books, papers and references, and staring at the opposite walls, not writing anything.  When I asked him,  he kind of waved me away saying nothing, but this was a beginning of something.

He never wrote after that.  He would forget many things. He would get angry with himself and shout at whoever was around. In a house where there were more cupboards with books and papers than anything else,  he started to sift through things, shredding  things he thought shouldn't be there.  For many months after that, while his writing completely stopped, he would sit with a pair of large scissors, cutting up what he thought was junk ; this often included, old articles, letters, photographs,  newspaper cuttings , bills, sometimes entire magazines , and old notes belonging to the rest of the family.

Sometime that year, my son who was leaving to go abroad for his doctorate went to visit his grandfather and spend some time with him. My father was very pleased, there was a slight lull in the cutting, and when my son left , my father gave him a file meant for me. He said it was my childhood stuff, poems and stuff i published as a child, all carefully preserved by my parents. 

The file remained in my cupboards as I rushed back to be with my father , who shortly after that, became bedridden .  His mind further upset and traumatized by that, he became delusional and would say he had just returned from a 5 mile walk, he would forget he had had lunch, and fire me for not getting his lunch; he kind of slipped in and out of real time, and slowly stopped recognizing anyone, except me and the house faithful who had always been with us.

It was interesting to see that while his mind was in a tumult  most of the time, sometimes with uncontrolled unconnected talk, there was a small part of his mind, or , supermind, as I used to call it, that was aware of what was happening to him.  There were some people he couldn't recognize; there were other family members he did not recognize, but his supermind made him aware of that, and he would smile and fake a generic welcome to them , making them thing he recognized them.  The same supermind , must have alerted him to the existence of my file in the midst of all that cutting up of paper.

The slow descent into blankness and energy deficit continued, and a few months later , on a rainy November night , shortly after his daughter  had fed him some  light soup, he kind of lay back, rested , and quietly , passed away , with only his daughter sitting by his side.  But not before , he struggled to emerge out of the mental chaos , to hold his hand out to her, and touch her face and head in a final blessing.  Somewhere , the supermind , showed up when he needed it.

10 years later, this January, we shifted residence after 43 years.  While packing a massive amount of books ,  suddenly this file shows up.  I think I know what is inside.  I untie the string outside and  check.

And out falls a manuscript, in Marathi, written in blue ink,  in my fathers handwriting;  slightly shaky , reflecting the onslaught of age. 

Turns out that this is a Marathi translation of a book called "Know Thyself" by  Swami Shivay Subramaniaswaami  , published in 2000 by the Himalayan Academy Press , associated with the Kauai Hindu Monastery in Hawaii.   I was aware that my parents had visited this place with my brother in the late 90's on a US visit.  I vaguely remember seeing the original book around the house.  

Somehow, in all the excitement of cutting up paper , (which it turns out is sometimes a typical onset symptom of dementia )  his supermind, as I call it, realized the value of this work, and included this manuscript of around 50 pages along with my childhood publications.

What made him take these decisions ?  How did he decide to preserve my papers and his , and send them away with my son, to me ? Was his supermind aware of these in the midst of  a normal mind trying its best not to slide into dementia ?  They say it is all about disturbed and insufficient blood supply to the brain , in old age.  So how come the supermind, as I call it was always safe ?  What is the supermind ? And does it exist ?

In another 10-15 years i will find out for myself.  I am not sure i will even reach the age that he did .  I have facilities like the Net, electronic storage, Drive and so on.  A shaking hand doesn't shake the keyboard, and the screen is always nice and unaffected.

In the meanwhile, I started transcribing onto Google Drive in Marathi,  the entire manuscript that I have received .  I just finished it a few days ago, and am doing a final edit .

I do not know if a Marathi translation exists. The original book(let)  was published in 33 countries, and so far queries  on email have had null response from Hawaii . It describes lessons you can follow on a daily basis over 14 days, and is in the form of a conversation between  a devotee and a Guruji .   It would be nice if one could have a Marathi version. 

So far , no response from anywhere .  I've just found out a US Mainland office address  of the publishers,  and got some friends there, involved in contacting them to find out the information I need. 

It doesn't matter. 

I think it is something that my father would have wanted me to do . 

And I think he maybe simply vastly amused  wherever he is , to see that his daughter , who is not very ritualistically religious , or heavily spiritual,  just enjoyed doing this transcription work , and actually enjoyed reading  the stuff along the way. 

His supermind still at work ? 

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Dimag Ki Batti ....अभी ना जाओ छोड़ कर.....


A few weeks ago,  I sensed a sudden streak of light at the outer edge of my left eye, as I  turned my head, to close a door.

It was night, and dark, and for a moment I thought it might be lightening; then I thought it was the street lights I must have seen , say in a fast neck turn.  So I  closed the curtains and did another test in what might be called pitch dark, and lo behold, the streaks of light, more like a vertical sword flash , continued every time  I turned.

Strangely,  this didn't happen at every turn but was fairly random. Happened during the day too.  As is my wont, I started reading and checking out things, and everyone said, "go check with your  doctor, don't delay!"

What happens is that  our eye can be said to have a front end processing and a back end processing.

The front end is all about the aqueous humor, which is a fluid floating around the front of the lens of the eye, between the cornea and the lens.  This is a watery fluid, that carried nutrition for the cornea and the lens , and is constantly replenished by our body. It also carries away waste from the eye region.

The back end is about directing the rays of light from the lens on to the retina (or screen) through a gel like substance called Vitreous Humor. This Vitreous Humor, also performs a supporting role, keeping the retina in place, maintaining the shape of the eye, and also acts as a shock absorber.  At birth , this vitreous humor  has the consistency of egg-white. Over the years it thins out, and the gel kind of clumps here and there. Sometimes a separation between the gel wall and retina ensues,  and in a worst case scenario , a bit of retina gets yanked off by the wayward truant gel.

The aforementioned flashes in the eye , happen when this clumped gel  or even thinned gel  misdirects rays of light and activates photoreceptors where it should not.

This is a kind of old age thing. And there is nothing humorous about the humors.

I mean back ends malfunctioning after 65 years  cannot be too bad. (So many multinationals and companies would give an arm and a leg to know the algorythm.)

Think of the eye as a sort of typical family .  The Retina is a Patriarch, in much association with the Optic Nerve which is almost like a ancestor.  The Vitreous Humor , is like a Grandma Matriarch,  who must keep looking after the welfare of the patriarch, as well as keep an "eye" on the happenings at the front end. How the lens behaves, does it keep itself clean , is the Lady Aqueous Humor, in association with the Cornea,  managing the upkeep of the front end well,  and keeping it healthy ?  In a world of fine rules, and finer anatomic machinery, is there adequate protection, and is there decent drainage of everything undesirable?

The stay-at-home Grandma , is these days of both parents working, often gets fatigued and old age takes its toll. Like our hair , memories, and so many things, she becomes thinner, loses a bit of gelliness, and the Patriarch Retina feels the change. Sometimes, he too feels the age, when she clutches on to him and tries to move.

And so one needs to avoid these situations, by getting checked at an early stage, so some corrective action may be taken to strengthen the retinal walls. Say in the form of drops to be put in over a set of many weeks.  (What I have been advised)

Something similar happening in our society today. 

We are a society , actually, with a very reliable, strong back end.  Playing by the rules, keeps the back end healthy and running well. 

But today, the front end,  comprising of the lens, and the fluid that carries nutrition to the eyeball and lens ,  is not in a very happy situation.  There are all kinds of influences  that mix with the aqueous fluid thanks to mindless imbibing , and adulteration; both chemical, and of thought.  The front end often is unable to handle the pressures it creates. The rich diseases quietly line up at the edges of the inside eye, and changes are seen in the back ends as well as front ends.  There is debility in the entire system, a thickening of paths, a thinning of objectives and purpose, and our sight gets affected.  As a people, we see things in a wrong way, because we are limited by our earlier careless and stupid behaviour. 

In my younger days, and fluorescent lighting in houses was then very popular, when   someone acted dense,  the others would often tease the person saying,  "So has the tube light switch on yet ?" or as they say in Marathi , my mother tongue,  " ट्यूब पेटली का ? "

I like to think of these streaks of light in my peripheral eye, as tube lights switching on,  trying to send me some sense and knowledge.

Not for nothing do we have a concept across languages, of something lighting up in the head. 

As they say in Hindi , another one of my country's several languages, "दिमाग की बत्ती जला दे.....  (Light up that light in your head ...)

Somewhere , some light must have switched on. Because a very popular old song, from a very old movie " Hum Dono " starring the late Dev Anand and late Sadhana came to mind, and this poem happened  :

Lady Vitreous Sadhana,
tired of sitting subdued
and clumped together
since birth,
lorded over
by Sir Retina Dev Anand,
and the seeds of independence
suddenly sprouting
as she holds herself
aloof and close
and dithers in doubt,
shaken up,
looking for an exit path.

Sometimes she pulls away,
still attached to him,
and he responds
with an angry flash,
only to have someone
interfere
with ocular drops of advice.

And Sir Retina Dev Anand,
much more aware now
of the life long support
by quiet Vitreous Sadhana,
looks up to see
rays of lights
in the distance,
nudges the
Rod and Cone chamchaas
and bursts into a song
for Lady Vitreous Sadhana...

"Abhi na jao Chhodkar,
ye screen abhi bhara nahi ..."
    
:-)  

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On the move.....


These are strange times. You mention "Shift" , and folks look at their keyboard.  It has evolved from a verb to a proper name of a key. 

But I still hang on to the old school .  And "shift" generates lots of memories.

Shifting, per se, has evolved.  From being a  family event to a  managed event. In keeping with the times.

My earliest memories  are from my college days in Pune.  I stayed in the college hostel, and every vacation was spent at a new district place , since there were parental job transfers.  I never really participated in the packing , and loading , and intense discussions about what to discard and what to take. By the time i came home , everything was well set, and one set out to discover the joys of small town Maharashtra .

My earliest memories of shifting , per se, are from the mid seventies, when my folks shifted back post retirement from Mumbai.  There were many discussions, trips to internal areas of Mumbai to get good but cheap jute material in large quantities.  Aunts came to stay, and much time was spent sitting with tough looking huge needles , through which you threaded  jute rope , and stitched up the jute covering  around  sofas, teapoys , small tables  and so on. Newspapers were stuffed in places where a collapse was anticipated .  Big gunny sacks were filled with odd shaped vessels and metal kitchen implements , and put in another gunny sack and stitched up.  Folks would keep talking about how so and so shifted and three dining room chairs had their legs broken  due to bad loading practices, and once again we would rush around with big needles, ropes and jute coverings.  Old sarees were put to good use .

I came into my own on moving day, after the truck's arrival was excitedly announced. Those were not days of movers and packers. Neither did they come with a container type transport. Benevolent looking chaps in dhoties and kurtas came and lugged things into the truck, and it fell upon me , as the only offspring present, to ensure that heavy things were not loaded on , say, glass tops .  Much to the consternation of the hi fi ladies of the neighborhood, I climbed on to the back of the truck , holding on to a chain dangling on the right, and stood there directing the loading, almost till the truck was ready to leave.  The stress of the shifting , the finale to a career, and age, meant that  folks were happy to leave things to their child to manage,  and i joined them in a heavily loaded Ambassador car filled with stuff "you couldn't send in a truck" , with aunts/cousins who had come to help.  They dropped me off at my marital home and proceeded on a hugely rainy monsoon evening , to climb the ghats , behind the truck.

The next time i moved was when , in our institutional premises, i moved from a hostel room to a bigger flat.  The hostel room had its own furniture, there was almost nothing to move. Perhaps  just the fridge and the gas cylinder.  The fridge was under warranty,  the fridge company truck was mandatory, and the elderly fellows who came to shift on their own offered to also shift our gas stove and cylinder, once they noticed large red Kokan "chira" stones that we used with old metal abandoned Godrej metal shelves to store our books and create  tables. They hailed from Kokan and were only too pleased to transport the tables to a largely empty , fairly big flat.

Nature , or better still, we, cannot tolerate a vacuum, and so the flat got slowly filled up with simple furniture. A larger flat meant folks could come to stay with us. Slowly and surely, the size, variety and need for furniture increased.  Every subsequent move to a better flat (of the same size), and we shifted twice after that in 43 years, had us sorting and discarding stuff.  Much more after the children happened.

It was recently time for us to move out of our institutional premises after 43 years. We were not young any more.  Like when my folks moved,  the daughter was around to help.

But there was a difference.

We had movers and packers now.

Some smiling folks turned up that morning, checked if they had the correct address and proceeded to lug in reams of broad plastic, millions of large bags, rolls and rolls of some kind of corrugated cardboard, and innumerable tapes. One guy with a trained  eye would point to stuff, another would load the stuff, and wrap everything in plastic securing it with copious amounts tape.  Another fellow took over the machines , and the fridge, TV,  washing machine and other electronics were very quickly, carefully and comprehensively packed in corrugated coverings and taped around as if tape was going out of fashion. They even packed your photo frames carefully (and i have a lot of them) , and smiled approvingly when you mentioned that late Maaji's photo might get a scratch on the glass in all this hurried stuff, and to individually pack it. 

Some other guys kept lugging these things down the lift into the foyer, and two hours after they arrived,  4 rooms were emptied and were being loaded on to the truck. Another road trip in the afternoon, and we were shifted.  The nice thing was, they shifted stuff , into the new premises, where it was intended, unpacked stuff , and powered on the electric stuff to confirm that it was OK.  When i walked in, the refrigerator was in the kitchen , humming.

But luggage isn't the only thing you shift.  

In the old days, it was. 

Then as an after thought, you wrote post cards to everyone informing them of change of address. You went to your bank, where they accepted the letter, with small talk about schools , admissions, and how do you like the new place etc etc, and quickly changed the address in a ledger  with an outlandish body mass index.  Phones were not easy to get, and your request for a shift  got acted on suddenly after a bunch of weeks, there was overhead wiring , and the linesman would climb on the  old cotton tree or mango tree to position the phone wires and direct them .    

Today, no one believes anyone.  Your word is insufficient as address proof.  You need bills to show what your address is.  You cannot change your address for these bills unless you have some other address proof. And having spent much of your life as a programmer, "loop" comes to mind.  You show someone a legal registered , notarized rent agreement, and they ask you to get it  verified and so declared by the housing society authorities. I mean the society  would hardly allow a random entity to shift in with all kinds of luggage and people , if we did not have a  proper document vetted by them.

Everyone has their own levels of demanding address proof. Sometimes , it is unusually simple. Sometimes , it borders on the offensive. Sometimes, two people in the same organization, give diametrically opposite information and instructions.   In an age when everything is supposed to be electronic, reams of paper get exchanged in the process, and Xerox continues to prosper.

But life has a way of settling in.  My newspaper delivery boy , who has delivered over the years, asked me where i was shifting and when . Turns out he serviced that area too. So i casually mentioned  the date to him , and asked him to deliver there. and bill me at the end of the month as usual. All this in a very hurried way  a week before shifting.

On our first early morning in the new premises,  boxes strewn all across,  getting tea started on the stove , I walk across to the  front door , with its complicated latches, open it , and find a newspaper  stuck in through the grill of the outside safety door.

Some folks need no address proof.  They believe you.  They don't do KYC again and again. 

A new day has  begun.

I take a deep breath.   Life is not so bad after all. 

I sit down with a cuppa to read the paper amidst all the unpacking chaos.  



 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Case of a Misleading Net...


When you are inching towards the end of the seventh decade of your life, and there are two days before the year ends, you not only look back at the year , but years, decades and half centuries. 

And somewhere you realize, that things have a habit of coming full circle.  Where living in a society of humans is concerned.

As a child , like today, our lives were lived in compartments like home, school, sports and other activities.  But interactions with other people were numerous. 

Beside interacting in predecided ways at school and other organized places,  we interacted with colony friends, neighbors, relatives , friends made in the pursuit of hobbies like music and sports etc. You did errands for neighbors without "documenting" the fact so to speak. Chit chatting with friends , arguing , fighting, ganging up, making up, consoling, celebrating were all things that happened in the natural course of living. You learned how to interact with friend's parents,  elders, seniors, small kids , and even rank strangers.  There was no TV, transistors were kind of looming on the horizon and were considered a huge luxury, if you had a telephone you were somebody, and by and large , you maintained  your individuality in a world where very little was standardized , except, what constituted goodness.

Things were pretty much similar way into the late seventies, early eighties.  Then came the computers and phones, and everything changed. In big cities, this kind of augmented,  societies taking to the "flat" culture , in a big way.

You didn't know who your neighbor was. Everyone had a cell phone.  People wore out index fingers tapping phone messages , which were earlier voice communications with instant responses and good laughs .  If you forgot your house key, you sat on the landing staircase  till someone turned up , while a neighbor's maid leaving the house gave you strange looks; where she lived, the neighbor would ask you in , offer tea or a meal , but then , they were old style, lived 7 to a room , and shared bathrooms, clothes and opinions.

You never really knew many relatives, and you basically exchanged standard polite greetings when prodded by parents on unavoidable social occasions.  Your closeting yourself in a room to pour over a screen, was defined as individuality, work, he-is-like-that-only etc.

Then someone came up with the Internet, or Net. You started speaking on Mail, or with images on computers. People introduced a kind of club on the Net and called it by different names, where you met and spoke to unknown people, and thought you were being really smart. The Internet started happening on Phones .

Till Facebook happened, and those who went through life very happily with, say 25-30 very good friends , suddenly got documented as someone with 1000 "friends"  and followers. Meeting few good friends over snacks and tea, a gossip session over a meal, or spending time listening  to something new somewhere got replaced by people being wished with expressive punctuation, sending automatic greetings to all and sundry who were listed as your friends, and even fighting and abusing on the Net.

In an earlier life, when you didnt know something, you badgered the hell out of some folks and pestered them to explain, visited the library, borrowed books from folks who were friends of friends, and ended up making many friends , and perhaps a few enemies. 

Today, you Google.  Social interaction is zilch, and you lose out on learning about human aspects of information , unless of course you have the time to read through one million links thrown up by Google.  Google will show maps, and a lady with an accent will tell you on your phone where to turn left or whatever, but it doesn't beat asking an old grandma in a rickshaw where some place was, she saying she is going the same way, and offering you a place alongside her,  chitchatting with you, she ending up knowing your aunt, and then offering you and the rickshaw driver a banana each from her shopping bag , at the end  of the ride before getting off.   

So.

Now that you have been so greatly individualized, you must learn how to communicate with others. The circle is complete.

 A generous backslap has been replaced with standardized emoticons, a possible development of an ability to do verbal debates is replaced by Twittering and Facebooking,  and the new generations are being taught how to interact with other humans. By Liking, Commenting and Sharing.

We did that individually, in real life, with flesh and blood people . Since decades.  And have emerged with better perceptions of society and how to deal with humans.

Life clearly is coming full circle,  with a big exception. 

We used all our senses and lived.

Today's social media emphasizes majorly the sense of sight, and perhaps, at some point, hearing. With an ability to keep someone's response at bay.  And so we have lost our sense of reacting to people.

Young people,  jumping on with alacrity onto the bandwagon , react to situations with the same alacrity, and a lack of patient situation analysis.  Knee jerk reactions to negative responses, excessively violent behaviours towards the female friends,  and occasional deep and dangerous depressive responses in stressful situations.

In my time, someone in the family or friends , might have noticed, asked questions, mediated, or helped. 

Technology is good when it is appropriate.  It does not work,  away from the natural ethos of a given society.  One would get unexpected results.

Almost half a century ago, I learned a statement in school which i did not understand then .

"Man is a social animal".....

I do understand it now. Very well.

 I just wish Technology was a person and understood it too ....


  



   

 

 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

SMART and smart....


The defintion of "Smart" changes with time. 

About half a century ago, we used to call some people,  Smart.  It didn't always have anything to do with their grey cells.

For most of the smart types, it was the outward impression they projected .

1. Well turned out, quick thinking, articulate and so on.

2. There were also situations and people , which were unsavoury,  and those who  emerged unscathed from them, ethically or unethically,  were also called Smart.  We have a surfeit of such folks today.

3. And then there were those, who regardless of looks, size and connections, simply exuded a certain inner smartness that had you gaping in awe.


For some reason, today "smart" is often misconstrued  to mean some kind of jugaad that someone indulges in ,  despite the system.  Sometimes at higher levels .

In the big rush to e-fy our lives,  screens and chattering printouts are considered more important than truth and simple security measures to maintain data integrity.

A big nationalised bank, at a major city branch, had a manager who blithely codified some new account number that was identical to mine. The new person with the account number was listed at the aforesaid branch's extension counter, and not main branch, and the manager , forgot to codify that. For 6 months , large sums would magically appear in my account and disappear the next day.  Till I demanded an explanation , and figured it out myself since no one including the manager had a clue.  In my old IT job 40 years ago, when "e" was not yet in fashion, they would have fired me for this.  When i explained to them what caused the error, the fact that the managers ignorance was exposed was more important than  the need for errorfree careful codification practices as per training manuals, and they couldn't wait for me to disappear .   Then i found out no one knew where the system user manual was. 

So smart.  

At a leading National Institute,  there is a careless attention to who can read and who can modify data pertaining to employees.  Normally, sensitive employee data is handled at the highest levels of HR , and modify rights are given to responsible well trained entities, who are conversant with the HR practices followed .  Perhaps a sense of euphoria at being e-fied has shut their eyes to the fact, that the security section folks, who are charged with creating identity cards for employees, have data modification rights which are sometimes used with ignorance of facts. They are oblivious to various new titles, posts, and their entitlements, thanks to a blissfully unaware  HR section, and have been known to ask questions for clarifications to those seeking a knew ID card.  Why security sections should , in the first place , be able to modify HR data is puzzling.  At most places, HR does the decisions and makes appropriate modifications , and others just read and follow procedures.   But we don't.

So smart .

 At another place, an employee  notices an error in the monthly e-salary slip, and brings it to the notice of the concerned staff.  A correction is requested.  Since salaries are processed in batch mode each month, the employee is told he will be issued a physical salary slip, reflecting the change.  (I am sure, the existing system is designed to cater to changing data, recalculating, and printing/uploading  the correct salary slip, but instead of being trained in the system, shortcuts rule , with a complete disregard for what will go in the archives.  ) .   Someone creates a screen shot, modifies some stuff, prints out the salary slip, which is blindly signed by some higher up, and carelessly sends it off. Very clearly, it has to pass through several upper levels before despatch . Maybe it did not. Because the person in question, got a slip showing the correct amounts, and a printout at the bottom, saying that the salary for June was being paid at the end of May (of the same year) !   A case of bad copy-paste careless jugaad. And Time Inversion.  Who cares ?

So smart .

There are endless examples.  

But then sometimes, a nondescript city office, understands it all.

Applying for copies of a death certificate , one submitted paperwork relating to the doctor's certificate, cremation office certificate and so on. On checking back on the appointed day,  one is told that there is a descrepancy between the date of death as seen on the doctor's certificate and as mentioned on the cremation certificate. It is clear that someone at the cremation office has been careless.  One is then told, that data as it is submitted has been uploaded, the system has pointed out the mismatch, the particular city office is not empowered to make corrective changes, and one needs to go to a specific office at the Corporation Main Office, with specified timings. One rushes there with the  requisite paperwork and application letter,  the modification is done , recorded and signed by a person with the requisite authority, and one rushes back to the original regional office,  where the work is done.

Someone , somewhere has applied thought, and trained folks regarding that. Kudos.

It is admirable, that despite so many places that have other considerations before someone at a window presses "Enter" and generates a paper , this place continues to follow the original definition of "service" , in the face of e-fication of lives. 

And so I actually shudder at the thought of  cities becoming smart.  It is all fine to hanker after catching up with the world.   But we need a citizenry that understands and respects rules.  And by extension, leaders who also follow rules themselves.

And thereby lies the catch . 
   

 For some strange reason, this business of Smart Cities,  keeps bringing to mind, this concept we have, of Sister Cities. Mumbai has 7 sister cities .  Berlin (GER), London(UK), Los Angeles(USA), St Petersburg(Russia), Stuttgart(GER), Busan( and Yokohama.

Two mayors meet, present to each other the "keys" to the cities, someone signs some memorandum, they shake hands and voila! we have sister cities.  And no one learns anything from the other. 

Perhaps we need Guru-Shishya cities .....

I wish everything was as simple........



Saturday, December 12, 2015

Swachh and Safe .... ?


"Always go to the bathroom when you have a chance".
                                                                     .....  King George V
 
(While this is something all mothers might approve, he might have paid a bit more attention to the situation in his then  empire ...      Just saying !)


We are almost at the end of 2015.

162 years since trains began in India , and counting.

And then one  reads  this.

"Senior Citizen's leg gets stuck in commode of train toilet for 10 hours".

It is an Indian Style toilet.  And the pictures across social media show her ankle visible  from outside the eventually detached train compartment,  when engineers had to use gas cutters to cut the toilet contraption  to free her .

Which leads one to ponder about the design and development of railway toilets over the last century and more.

The first train ran from Mumbai to Thane in 1853. By 1867, the Allahabad-Jabalpur line was started  and by 1875, 95 million pound sterling was invested in Railways by the British , most of it in expanding the reach. By 1900 , we had the government getting in, with the Great Indian Penninsular Railway, and the network expanded , with the first electric train arriving in 1908.

Like in many other aspects, development happened, as if people did not matter.

The story goes that one Okhil Babu, got completely cheesed off and fired of a letter as below :





 and this was the precursor to the railways seriously incorporating toilets in trains.

A peculiar problem, native to India, was the need for Indian Style toilets; more beneficial to our anatomy, clearly more hygienic to use,  and which the native population preferred to use.

(The propensity to gravitate to a western form of toilet, housing that needs a special request to incorporate an Indian Style toilet , and approvals given to government office buildings with all western style toilets with scant regard for the user profile is perhaps a subject for a separate post .  I wrote something about Progress and Sanitation in 2009.  NOTHING has changed. )

And so they introduced very simple toilets , with minimum maintenance costs. Hole in the floor style. 

The Railways expanded, millions of miles were added, speeds of trains increased, freight train systems were developed, air conditioning happened ;  as of 2012 , a population of approximately 25 million  was transported by Indian Railways daily which amounts to around 9 billion a year,  but alas,  by and large the Indian Style train toilets, or Hooper Toilets, remained unchanged. 

There is something alarming about the design, where a simple glance down in a running train toilet, shows you the rails and ground rushing by at great speed accompanied by rhythmic loud sounds.

I've been witness  to the trauma, of a toilet trained 3 year old , travelling from Mumbai to new Delhi in the early 80's, in in one of the Indian Railways highly touted trains, trying to use the toilet, getting alarmed with the hole in the floor, the noise, and the view of the rushing ground below the train, and then trying to escape , while still desperately trying to use the toilet. You could not use the toilet when the train was stationary, when  there was zero alarming noise and disappearing tracks.   Cajoling parents, approving other passengers, fear, unavoidable body procedures, the discomfort,  it was like a performance, trying to find a mean between finishing up your stuff soon, and not inconveniencing other passengers, in a train with an alarming  passenger-bathroom ratio.

The lady in the aforesaid mishap on the Konkan Railway, was 65, clearly used to train travel, was using it at 3 am,  and although this might have been one of her bad/unlucky  days, one wonders why the Hooper Toilet has not undergone any  hitherto noteworthy research and development, particularly , with respect to its hole-in-the-floor design.

Yes, the lady slipped while opening the door (the floor is always wet),  but has anyone thought of using some more metal/porcelain and making the waste path  stuff longer  as it is discharged, either out into the tracks, or into a tank ?  Why a straight down vertical drop ?  The lady's foot slipped inside, and went straight down , and could be seen from outside the compartment , when they isolated the train bogey.

Perhaps a longer horizontal path and a possible curved exit might have avoided this.

One wonders why , while efforts are made to figure out more civilized ways to manage  disposal of the waste products, by introducing chemical toilets, or other mechanical methods, why minimal attention has been paid to the shape and gradient of the disposal pipe, from the point of view of passenger safety.

But seriously, there appears to be a disconnect where railway toilets are concerned. 

And then you read about the amazing logic, dated Nov 2015,  used by no less than the Railway Board , to decide that NO TOILETS were needed on a DMU train in Odissa , (a Diesel Multiple Unit train where no separate engine is required as it is incorporated into the carriage itself) covering 160 kilometres,  presumed to be covered in 4 hours.  Furthermore , the train would be halted for 30 minutes between its origin and destination. 

The National Human Rights Commission has slapped a notice on the Railway Board to file a report on this absence of toilet facilities. Read about this here.

I assume the Railway Board is aware of senior citizens, old age health situations, small kids, ladies, all mostly compelled to traveling by passenger trains.  

While the Railway Board decides when and how peristalsis happens in a citizen's intestines, and how powerful his/her sphincter muscles should be, per kilometre of railway track ,  and letters and notifications are slapped on each other regarding this, perhaps it is time for someone to hold a nationwide/worldwide competition for an improved design for a safe Indian style train toilet ?   

Swachh , yes . How about , Safe ?