Monday, June 29, 2015

Climb every mountain....

It was time for her to gape, open mouthed.

"You climbed in a frock and chappals ? "

"No only that, your Aji climbed wearing a 6 yard sari and chappals, and both your uncles wore normal half pants and sandals. "      Me.

This was about Kalsubai, the highest peak of the Sahyadris in Maharashtra, and the fact that my parents, my brothers and I climbed this , about 55 years ago,  during our summer vacations.  My father was then posted at Ahmednagar, and we spent our vacations there, as we continued to attend school in Pune during the school year.  On a trip to Bhandardara , then an emerging  , little known tourist destination, with just a government Rest House, someone mentioned Kalsubai to our parents, and everyone decided to attempt  a climb.

A local from the village of Bari, at the base, accompanied us.  There was just a standard hand held bag carrying some water and something, which my mother carried.  We climbed, scampering across , as children are wont to do, occasionally slipping ,  supervised by our parents and the local guy, who kept up a constant informative chatter about the village the deity, the activities, and such, interspersed with commenting on how the kids were taking to the climb so well.

No photographs exist. So I have nothing to show how we had to hold on to some kind of chains fixed into the vertical rocks, somewhere near the top.  And so we did it, all 5,500 feet of it, reached the peak, rested , inadvertently learned a bit of history, geography,  sociology, and then descended.

There was an element of not knowing what came next in this trip.  Our only Net was the local guide, who gave real time advice.

Why do I write this ? 

Today,  a Google search on Kalsubai give 1,53,000 results in 32 seconds.  You can read about it all, without stepping out of your chair.

The mountain stands , as before, majestic in the monsoons. Possibly experiencing the change that advancing age brings....

The daughter recently went on a trek to the same place.  Very organized. With complete instructions, do and don'ts,  safety  warnings, suggestions about clothes, footwear, and respecting the sensibilities of villagers.  It was about setting out from an urban Mumbai, heading out into the plains by the railways, then being driven to the village, where locals organized yummy breakfasts.  The Kalsubai mountain itself, now had  signs here and there, a bunch of railings and ladders installed  for the benefit of the local climbers population, and the visiting trekkers.  Somewhere near the 3rd or 4th ladder, a chap had set up tea stall specailizing in Kanda Bhajjyas, freshly fried and served in leaves. He was even seen nimbly climbing  along with the trekkers, lugging a sack of onions.

The climbers, all outfitted in appropriate climbing shoes, capris, jeans and track pants, tees , and waist pouches.  I know someone who even carried a power bank. The trekkers almost all carried rucksacks, with plastic water bottles, some food, rain jackets, cameras, and every now and then , folks would whip out their phones and take pictures.  Sounds normal today, but would have sounded positively confusing to someone who had never used a landline black rotary phone then.   

So many wonderful photos, descriptions on blogs , and making friends.

And it too me back to what happened when , 58 years ago, we descended down, exhilarated, and returned to Bhandardara, and thence to Ahmednagar and back to Pune and school.

Being the one  with a literary bent amidst the family children , my parents encouraged my efforts , be they in the prose or verse form.  This hobby also developed due to having friends with similar interests.

There was a children's Marathi magazine , called " Garjana" published from Kolhapur then, and I wrote an article about this  "trek"  (it was then called a trip)  accompanied by a poem. They actually published this in their "Varsharambh" issue in April 1960.  In those days, any event , including floods, elections, prizes awarded o family friends, popular leaders coming to Pune etc would elicit a poem by me, and these were written in longhand, in a book, regardless of whether anyone wanted to read them or publish them.

I had lost track of these "manuscripts"  for decades , as I got busy with my own life and children and their hobbies and clicks and writings.

A few months after my father passed away, I spent some time organizing and clearing papers in their house, and came across a file,  where I found, carefully filed, copies of stuff that I wrote, copies of stuff of mine that someone published, and all kinds of letters written to me subsequent to some kind of state level scholastic achievement, all sitting quietly together, frayed edges, dulled inks, and all.

I remembered these, and  went through them again with my daughter, before she went on the trek.  Leading to the conversation mentioned at the beginning of this post.    

History repeats.   Another generation climbs Kalsubai.  Does excellent photography there.  Posts it on Facebook, where those who were on the trek with her "like" it and comment on it.

I decide to further utilise the capability for which my parents encouraged me so much.  I co-operate with the daughter on a blog solely dedicated to her various treks. She does the photos, and I do the short text accompanying each.

Have a look at it at Field Clicks.

I can never aspire to do what my folks did. Painstakingly cut and file away my literary outbursts at various ages and the documentation of my various activities that in inadvertently appeared here and there . And carefully maintain it through decades.

I must move with the times.  And learn to document it all on the blog the daughter maintains , for her treks.

In the meanwhile, the erstwhile 10 year old girl who climbed Kalsubai in a frock and chappals,  has been told by someone leaving for work, to expect an online merchant courier who will deliver a cell phone lockable  waterproof cover sometime today........

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Misguided Mirrors ....

I have this huge amount of respect for whoever designed the human brain.

There is an entire set of people  trying to get computers to do what the brain does, and while I appreciate their hard work, conviction and single minded devotion,  I think at some point the brain simply wins hands down.

I mean  when was the last time a computer CPU exhibited neural plasticity ( say, one USB port , learning and chipping in on its own for another non functioning port) ?  And when was the last time,  the CPU, decided to ignore certain parts of itself, and simply shut down the sections of the computer controlled by those parts, because power was being compromised in some way within ? And when was the last time your engineer repaired the circuitry in real time with the computer actually on ?

So it was with much delight that I leaned about something called mirror neurons.

Whenever the brain is involved in an bodily activity, the neurons in that  part of the brain that is controlling that activity are said to "fire", and this is experimentally observable. 

Sometime in the 1990's some scientists in Italy did an experiment with monkeys.

They fed the monkeys (A)  some peanuts  and noticed a certain section of brain neurons firing.  They had a bunch of monkeys (B) observing these monkeys(A), and found that  some neurons in the monkeys (B) fired every time the monkeys(A) were given peanuts.  This was not a one off coincidence and several experiments were done that resulted in the postulation of "mirror neurons", or neurons that didn't participate directly in the action, but still got all excited about it on their own.

These are what you might call "learning" neurons.  Suppose someone pokes your thumb with a needle. You express hurt , and react , by trying to withdraw your hand, as decreed by your normal brain neurons. 

When I watch the process of poking, there are mirror neurons in my brain, that will react. Because they learn about the poke and its effects , and fire. These are not the neurons that listen to the brain say "Ouch, pull back that hand !".  But neurons that are capable of understanding that act and help us learn about it and the in process , empathize with the person being poked. .

In simple terms, when you say one learns by observing, one is talking about these mirror neurons. When you watch something happening to someone,  your own set of mirror neurons imagine the event and you react in empathy as if it happened to you.

Dr V. S Ramachandran, a neuroscientist at UC San Diego, and author of many books about the brain , says that mirror neurons   enable us to see someone else as an intentional being, with purpose and intention.  And so when some one's mirror neuron system is dysfunctional, we have a autism situation.

I have a question that has to do with what we observe, how much we observe, and is it possible that mirror neurons can be misled ?

Over the last half a century and more , visual mediums have proliferated in our lives. For some of us, television happened in our mid twenties, with color coming in even later. Today's generation, born in the nineties, are hounded , by visual data in the form of millions of television channels, video games, cell phone screens and so on.  Right from birth itself.  Small babies and kids react to Ipads.  And in television, there is  hardly any control on the content being shown, particularly in India.

Is it possible that mindless violence , immoral behaviour , and  unnatural acts and events, constantly badgering our mirror neurons, could have fatigued them?  To the extent that they blindly wrongly "empathize", and later no longer react to what their own brain , capable of reason, is actually telling them ?  To the extent that people mindlessly behave and act without regard to the consequences ?   

Is it possible that,  beyond a certain frequency of onslaught of visual graphics,  the mirror neurons , sort of start functioning "on automatic", bypassing the individual's capacity to  evaluate and reason before acting?

Watch something and emulate , regardless of final outcome, or harm to someone.  And our so many billion dollar entertainment industry obliges ...

Newspapers are full of stories where someone killed his father because he refused money for a new cell phone; someone slashed his wife' neck because she said she wanted a divorce;  someone else flung acid on a girl's face  because she spurned his offer of marriage; someone killed his mother because she wouldn't sign over some papers of ownership of something;  someone committed suicide by hanging because of less marks in board exams; and endless events of this type. So many of these events are India-centric.  In a country in a desperate hurry to catch up with the rest of the "developed" world,  it is possible, that important steps are skipped.  Blind aping of situations and events in films where humiliation of women is rampant, presumed superiority of men based on their mindless revengeful acts , are some of the results of this headlong rush into "Progress Alley" ..

Is it possible that we have passed the zenith of the development of our cerebral cortex, and are now on the other side,  on a slow slide to an animal way of life ?   Have we abused our mirror neurons till they  have become mindlessly irreversibly  narcissistic?  Have we abused different ways of learning ?

As human beings who should be aware and respectful of the ways of Nature,  have we now become marauding types out to destroy anything and everything that spells "B-A-L-A-N-C-E" ?   Instead of being students and learning, the mirror neurons have now become masters.

And you see this abuse in Nature, as well as in the way our society is developing.

Even computers which mimic or at least are programmed ("trained")  to mimic what the brain does, are now used for fraudulent  dealings, defaming people, propagating harmful stuff, and cheating. 

Possibly , computers can be rectified, repaired and started afresh.

I wonder  if this can be done with the mirror neurons that have gone astray...

Saturday, June 13, 2015

MRI Reloaded....

Almost seven years ago, I was asked to do an MRI of the shoulder and neck region.

Never mind what happened to my shoulder later, but the exercise resulted in a blog post  "MRI Rock", detailing my first fun experience  with the MRI procedure. The highlight of that entire procedure was the immense variety of noises that emanated around me as I lay, deadly still , in one of those  slide in-slide out , cylinder type things  , which presumably had magnets inside , trying to twist and turn and position themselves.

I was back for another MRI.  Thanks to a long standing strange complaint of severely  burning toes , which was killing my sleep.  I was curious to know this time , what had changed in the last 7 years. With me, as well as the MRI machine....

The target of the MRI, which was this time, the Lower back, or as they say, LS Spine.  (Just reminded me of a TV program from ages ago, where Archana Puransingh used to do a comedy program  and classify  people/places as HS(High Society/posh) and LS (Low Society/Unposh). I was ecstatic to know that my spine was LS....  But I digress.)

The whole idea of an MRI, is to position magnetic fields in clever ways so as to polarize the hydrogen atoms in your body region under survey, and then point radio waves at them, and catch the reflection of these waves on film, to give doctors an idea of the mess inside your bodies.

Like before , all metallic items were removed , and handed to a relative for safekeeping, and  a hospital gown took its place.

Like before , I lay down on one of those sliding planks. The only difference was that now they also moved vertically, so that I could climb on , in a sort of casual way , as opposed to , on a stool, that shook under the weight.

And like before, I was cold, the AC was killing me, and I was told not to move once the procedure began. And as before , I asked the technician for the emergency bell , which I must hold in my hand, in case anything became intolerable and needed me to move.

Some things have clearly changed.  The earlier MRI, had, in addition to a slide-in cylindrical section,  a kind of large diameter spherical section which felt like a planetarium when one slid in.   This machine was a cylindrical contraption, much narrower , and  possibly the effect of the current craze for size zero .  Fairly puzzling because  so many normal-size non-page 3 folks came  to get MRI's done .  The whole effect was like one was sleeping at stiff attention, and itching for someone to shout and say , "Vishram!".

And then there were the sounds.
Clearly, the hydrogen atoms inside me had mellowed down. The sort of music that was offered to get the magnetic fields working now was different.  

The main sound continuously playing in the background was some kind of sound of a dog barking rhythmically, somewhere far down the road, in a sort on non stop way. There were some very loud rhythmic  beat sounds, which I thought, would be better suited for some loud nightclub or discotheque, and I could imagine people desperately flinging themselves around in weird clothes trying to dance to that music. Wonder if any DJs have had MRI's done ?

All of a sudden,  it changed to a  lower pitch yet still very loud sound , a kind of thick buzzing. Then a kind of sound of a mixer running in your kitchen.  This was followed by what I call hammering house repair sounds.  The sort you hear when there is a building coming up next to your house. 

At some point, in a throwback to my past experience, the dreaded sounds of a drill digging up a concrete road made their debut.

The new sounds this time , were different. One was much like an electronic saw making precision cuts, loudly and clearly; not a terribly reassuring sound to hear when you are sleeping under a cylinder sliding in and out under someone else's control. 

The other new sound was what I call the horns.

I am not sure whether these "horn sounds"  kind of announced that a new area in the body was being looked at.  But they sounded exactly like the Mumbai suburban local train sounds, when the train stops at a red signal, and the driver tries to signal to whoever, that he needs a response, so the train can move. 

These sounds happened in different pitches, but what made me really amused was a sound like the very old style air horn (balloon type) which you still hear on BEST buses in Mumbai, when the driver is fed up of unmoving traffic and wants to push.

 It occurred to me that  these were typical sounds one would hear in a place like Mumbai, where new construction was rampant, there were no restrictions and rules on noise, and you would be cursed with cement drilling, concrete mixing, glass cutting, chain saw noises , interspersed with local trains honking for a signal in the distance. Even the barking dogs sound.

Science and Anatomy reflecting the society around us.

It isn't easy remaining still and unmoving inside the cylindrical MRI contraption. And they would constantly have these little back and forth shifts of the plank. You would think everything was done, and they would slide you in again, possibly to take another tantalizing view of your scintillating back.

This MRI procedure  was more claustrophobic than before.

 Seven years ago, I had kept my  cool and wits about me, by thinking of various songs that one could sing to the beat of these sounds, as the magnets did their stuff.  Occasionally , I would then remember some childhood prayers we recited when we were afraid . And recite them to the beat of the magnets.

Seven years on, it was not the same.

There was a bit of loss of bravado.  Almost similar music, and some similar sounds, with some innovative ones added in,  but all that I could recite to that beat, were prayers where one took God's name. Seven years down the line, I had moved on, and popular songs simply did not come to mind.  Possibly it was age,  or even inattention to what was being constantly played on loudspeakers all time . I would often realize that I was holding my breath, and then try and release it slowly so as to not unknowingly  make any movement in the area under investigation,  by exhaling hugely.

I am not an overly religious person, and not someone who can rattle off chapters and verses of holy books.  Shri Ram, Ganpati, and Shri Krishna are the Gods that always come to my mind.  Seven years ago, I could recite the Maha Mrutyunjay Mantra in my mind, in perfect tune to the MRI sounds, and even counted the iterations.

Now I tried to recite names in my mind, quietly, as the rattling, and booming and digging noises continued.   Somehow, the prayers to Ganpati , Krishna, and the Maha Mrutyunjaya Mantra,  did not fit into the rhythm of the MRI sounds.

But  Shri Rama did.  And so the hydrogen atoms  in this earthly body, straightened out to the tune of Shri Ram, Jai Ram,  Jai Jai Ram,  and sent their pictures back to the computer/photofilm etc , for what sounded like a musical thirty minutes, interspersed with local train horns, introducing each piece of music.

I know I always say our bodies reflect what is happening in society and vice-versa.

But no  this has nothing to do with the political party in power in my  state.   It has nothing to do with secular or communal.  

A different MRI beat could have fitted in with invocations to Ganpati and/or Krishna as well. Seven years ago, the MRI beats fitted perfectly to A R Rehman's Jai Ho!

What was important here was to figure out the handling of the burning issue of the day.

My toes.



Friday, June 12, 2015

Autobiography of an unknown pothole....

I am trying to find out my purpose in life.

Circumstances of my birth are never happy events that I remember.  I mean, I have never hankered to see the real world. 

I have been happy, cocooned in maternal concrete , cementing my ties with those around, just ordinary middle class entities in a subterranean world. Wires and cables, meandering around, minding their own business, and well meaning telephone cables carrying on their preassigned work. It does get crowded at times with the big ones that sit deeper and direct water and other unmentionables around, but then that's life.   But we folks, try and keep away from these folks who are important.

It has become difficult in a place like Mumbai, to remain subterranean. I mean think of the huge heavy loaded fourwheelers at signal junctions, pressing down on us till the get the green sign.  Big buses, trucks, and so many cars trying to be big. It becomes intolerable, and someone like me has to finally emerge into the fresh air.

That's when all the trouble begins. I cannot tell you how much it hurts to have  radial tyres  run roughshod over you.  Just when you think it is over, there appears out of the blue (it is now visible to me , you know) , a huge long transporter thing, with sixteen wheels bearing down on me. Sometimes it is a red bus, with its weight increased several times over thanks to people hanging all over it, through doors.

Of course, my injuries run deeper in the course of time, fractures, festering hurts and cracks, and occasionally someone will organize a pothole doctor to come and check me out.

Thanks to all the lax controls in our country over medicines ,  someone gets down to examining and operating on me, and fills  me up.  The world knows about it via the various red ribbons, banged up cylindrical containers and sticks organized around the operation area, and the pervading smell of tar. Most of the time, someone crushes gravel and stone and tries to fix my injuries.

When no one is watching, they certify me fine.  (I wonder from where they learn to do that).

Once again, but this time with scar tissue, I occupy my place in the scheme of things.

The trouble starts when it rains.  In my earlier original subterranean life, my environment would suddenly cool down underground, and I would hear gushing flowing noises of the storm water drains. Today, I am  permanently sick and handicapped . Sick, because, water runs across all the scar tissue, dissolving things, and creating holes again. Some of it even sits for days, and I have to bear radial tyres thumping through the holes, bikers speeding through it , and when all is quiet (which it never is in Mumbai)  there are these mosquitoes, who come for a diesel laced nightcap and have a buzzing time.

The same doctors, the same obsolete banned medication, and the same traffic running unconcerned over me, even before I have healed. The scar tissue gets worse and worse, lumpy adhesions are formed , infections set in, and I think back to the old days, when  the road was somewhere else, the traffic was lesser and more orderly, there were often trees by the side , and my problems were treated in a simple yet better manner.

Today treating me has become a business.  The doctors even declare me as fit when I am not. Someone even tried to put my photo on Facebook, but I ended up getting spam from some doctors who had something against me.  I am even considered glamorous. Someone even made some plastic fake pothole prints , and spread the sheet  over some perfectly good roads  to teach the vehicle owners a lesson in driving carefully.

I have now become older and philosophical.  I know my health is going to get worse and worse. The impending monsoon does not inspire any sense of security.   This city keeps on adding thousands of vehicles every day, without checking if folks like me are healthy enough . Parts of me are atrophying.  Sometimes I meet other atrophying potholes, and they have the same story to tell.  Sometimes I almost die.

Sometimes I feel, we potholes are female.  So much physical abuse, so much of pointing fingers,  so much unconcern for our health, and simply no action on fake stuff used to treat us, unlike expensive stuff used for a slight scratch of the face of an expensive road.  It is not simply by chance that we affected potholes gravitate towards each other, sharing the water and the stories . Once every year proclamations are made about how someone is going to be taking care of us, and addressing our woes before the rains. Just like they are in the habit of proclaiming so many new National Days these days.  

But No.  

 Which brings me to reincarnation. I never used to believe in it.

 I had heard about the life system of dying and constantly being reborn as something else, and getting stuck in the cycle of life and death. And luck was with those who got a release from this life-death-reincarnate cycle , and  obtained freedom for the Soul .  Moksh. 

I keep getting sick, dying, and then I keep getting reincarnated as another pothole.  Perhaps the place changes. But I never reincarnate as something else.

Please.  I don't ask to be reincarnated as a powerful leader, or a lion or tiger, or even a popular actor or actress. I don't want to be reincarnated even as a mango tree in summer, or as saffron in Kashmir. Or as a beautiful rose bush in the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi.

All I ask is an escape from being reincarnated again and again as a pothole , a deliverance from the devil contractors and hand-in-glove municipal types.

Reincarnate me as a bird, that flies high on the skywalk at the junction, and watches the erstwhile pothole from there.

I will have then attained my Moksh.........     


Saturday, June 06, 2015

An Approximate Life

Be approximately right rather than exactly wrong.

John W Tukey, a chemist, turned topologist turned statistician, absolutely hit the nail on the head when he said that. Which is kind of funny , because he was exactly right.

We, of the world's approximately oldest civilization, initiators of the exact concept of zero,  and  some time learners of a context sensitive ancient Panini Sanskrit Grammar so perfectly algebraic  for relating to computer programming structures, have unknowingly accepted approximations as a huge part of our lives.

Go on  road trip anywhere, and stop to ask directions. Many times, road signs are a one time effort performed by fatigued municipal office, and updating is ignored.   Regardless of the actual distance, with a fine disregard for the metric system  which actually took over in 1957, someone will always say ,"Oh, just 5 furlongs further down ."  After 5 furlongs, when nothing appears, and you check with someone , you get a similar answer, possibly qualified by sighting things like schools, cisterns and taking a left or right .

You get a notification from the income tax authorities mentioning your latest return, and it mentions an approximate general reason(s) you should see them immediately. There is nothing exactly mentioned regarding specifically you.  You take leave from work, and travel 40 kilometres to their office, out of respect for national laws which are exact. On reaching there, you move through a maze of folks who point you somewhere else approximately. The final person tells you , your return is fine, and the letters were sent to approximately 1 lakh  people including you, who fell into some category, as an exercise in random checking.

You go to your bank, to wire some money abroad as registration fee for a conference.  You would think the rules exist in black and white. But no.  I mean the rules exist, you specify the extra charges should be recovered from your normal savings account,  but the understanding is approximate, and so every head office en route on the wire gets its pound of flesh before the fee reaches the destination ,  reduced in value . You protest,  someone checks and apologizes, and something is returned to you.  This from a major bank that should know its procedures eyes closed. But there is a comfort level in being approximate, and a bit of a nose-turn-up in being called a service organization.      

The agency that really excels at approximation is the Weather Bureau or Meteorological Office as we call it.   The first approximation is about when the Monsoon will hit Kerala. Sometimes it does not keep appointments, and various reasons are given about winds, and depressions and so on. Which develop over a period of observable time, and nothing is instantly changing. Indications exist,  but we we are still approximate.  The 26th July cloudburst over Mumbai was never predicted. Rain clouds in mid February , are unusual, do not appear in an instant, movements can be followed, but someone thinks the clouds may approximately move on, and hey, who wants to make a wrong prediction ? (For that matter, a right prediction ? :-)  )

Law and Order issues being approximate is puzzling.  The approximation being done is by the authorities.  You get pulled up because you followed the traffic flow and turned left, when the signal was red.  You get pulled up when you obstinately wait for a signal to change color, and block all kinds of errant honking traffic behind you. The cop is approximately trying to figure out  what he should charge you under, as hundreds of bikers without helmets zip through disobeying an exact rule. You ask him about this, and he approximately deems you dangerous and lets you go.

Medicine is an exact science.  However , our Food and Drug authorities allow medicines , like Nimesulide , which are banned in other countries.  I mean, either something is beneficial to the body,  or it is harmful.  Dosages are specified . But we are beset with an approximate attitude.   We seem to follow a "maybe" system . Lead in Maggie noodles (where these noodles are not a life requirement, per se) is avidly investigated, retests ordered, but millions of fly-by-night ayurevdic manufacturers ignore proper procedures of preparing medications as specified, and market medications with unchecked harmful levels of lead.   The "Maybe" is intricately linked with a mindset that says, science may be exact, so what; but we deal in things approximately.

So many things that work like clockwork in other countries simply become "approximate" in India .  Cell phone service providers who must follow stringent service-to-consumers rules elsewhere , simply go approximately haywire in India. Like Vodafone.  ( I have personal experience).  Airlines which must provide certain facilities (else face penalties/actions) in other countries, quietly ignore things in India, and point to local airlines when you question them about things like wheelchairs. (Again I have personal  experience). Even food. They try and approximately do what they are supposed to , and it doesn't matter if  the consumer suffers.

Sometimes I think our flora today also live approximate lives, not knowing what the soils contain, thanks to indiscriminate landfills , putrefying stuff and increase in methane concentrations, and lack of water. Global warming is a nice approximate reason to publicize.

Many years ago, Germans were famous for perfection.  They still may be.  I haven't been there since 1991 when I lived there , with the kids , for a year.  There used to be  Herr Schmidt in our apartment  complex, who  always did the garden up keep, and became great friends with my daughter , who  then  5, liked to tag along with him, clearing weeds, raking soil, and watering , once the winter cold season got over. I would chat with him whenever I went to pick up my daughter, or thought she was being more of a nuisance than a help, and he once mentioned, that spring officially began on April 1, and so now was the time in late March, to do all this work in the garden.

My approximation laden mind was in a shocked tizzy over his statement about Spring beginning on April 1.  I mean, there were things you could be exact about, and there were things beyond your control.  Spring was not an aunt who called and said she was arriving by a certain train , and so on. 

You will not believe this, but right on the dot on April 1, I noticed buds  on the plants, some blooming, some just born,  on the garden border.  After a severe snowy winter , you could not miss this event when it happened.

Sometimes, I guess nature too learns  , where it must be exact , and where it cannot  be approximate....        


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Brilliant coding .... and it is not about IT..

One exists the way one does,  because one's parents donated 23 chromosomes each , making one the proud holder of 46 chromosomes in the nucleus of every cell in one's body.

A chromosome consists of hundreds and thousands of genes, and , many personal traits  are determined  by sets of these genes.   The entire structure, and functioning of your body and possibly your mind is decided by the types and amounts of proteins your body synthesizes, and  genes are the managers  of the lives-and-times  of these proteins,  which actually contain coded instructions on how you will develop throughout your life.

You may have traits you inherit.  I  mean you may look like a spitting image of your father, but inherit the disposition of your mother.  You may even be predisposed towards a medical career, despite neither of your parents being so, simply due to a dominant gene from your grandmother, skipping a generation, and flowering within you. All those traits that have assorted aunts and folks say things like "You speak just like your Mom" or " This love for elocution is a gift of your Dad" are supposed to have come from dominant genes. Every time  someone shakes their head at your marks in Maths  and goes tsk tsk about how good your Dad was in maths, they are talking about your recessive gene.

The aforementioned coded instructions as protein strings in your genes,  are actually a kind of time table of your life.  How you will develop at what age, when will your height shoot up noticeably,  when will you start getting periods,  when will your musical abilities come to the fore, would you have a literary bent of mind , when will that develop, will you be one of those folks with a raging temper, and so on  . So many things. So many amino acid protein chains, folding and unfolding, so many enzymes and hormones quietly streaming around getting things done.

I have always wondered how time was coded into these instructions .

I mean, we humans live by the circadian time,  we have glands like pineal glands, little bitty smart things in our brains that sense that part of the 24 hours we are in, and trigger things like sleep,  idling down of various body systems, resting parts of the brain, waking up, feeling hungry etc etc .

Do these protein strings of the genes in our 46 chromosomes, sense time the same way we do at the macro level?  Clearly,  deep within our body, and in the cells, time would be sensed by a trigger of some enzyme or similar thing.  And the question can be asked, whether the well being of the body at that point, sickness/weakness etc, has any effect on the sensing of time by the cells at the micro level .

When we say that  some folks carry a certain cancer gene  what causes it to bide its "time" , before expressing itself in its gory glory ?  Does the environment around the cells, and general physiological condition of the body,  contract or dilate the time as far as the cell clock goes ?

But the real wonder is how these coded instructions influence thinking.

In my more than half a century of leading a fairly ordinary life, there have been several occasions when someone has remarked how I resemble my mother,  in the way I  express myself, and think.  So many people saying "you are your mother's daughter";  and post-some crisis situation, someone coming and saying, "Hmm. Independence... Shades of your mother .."   .  My father loved to write, and he ensured all those protein strings were there in his  23 chromosomes that he gifted me. Right from childhood , my parents encouraged this writing, which sometimes included poems.  All this right brain activity tangling every now and then with the algebraic unknowns of the left brain activity which was compulsory at times.

There was a huge gap in life,  like 30 years when this right brain activity took a back seat. Then all of a sudden , sometime in 2006 ,  I was inspired to write , both prose and poetry. 

While I agree with a lot of people's observations about me resembling my mother , it has become apparent to me , as I proceed well ahead on the wrong side of 60,  that I now tend to become a bit more like my father was in his old age.  In certain types of thinking, literary pursuits (which had remained hitherto dormant since the age of 25),  social interactions, a tendency to look inwards, and sometimes,  unexplained impulsive altruistic tendencies.  The basic maternal mould remains, but with these little  eruptions caused by certain hitherto dormant protein strings suddenly doing their stuff.

And I wonder , how thinking processes, and changes therein, can be coded into a protein string in your genes at birth , and how a tired  writing/poetry  gene,  one fine day ,  suddenly remembers how it expressed itself half a century ago, and is now all agitated to express itself once again.

I wonder how the cell senses what time of life it is . And what resources the body has at this point, struck as it is by shades of a metabolic syndrome. Surely, the quality of enzymes and hormones that tell the "cell-time"  have altered noticeably over the years, and the environment in the body is far from exemplary.

And  I often wonder about the Designer of this set up, who installs in us , all these coded strings at birth, that work with so much precision, co-operation with the vagaries caused by environmental effects on our bodies,  and manages to even have something to do with how we think at various points in our life.

No advertisements, no Apps, no festival deals, no false promises, no tom-tom-ing of foolishly named OS's  , no built in obsolescence.

Just some quiet updates, without announcements 

And you have ,  a quiet, robustly built, self correcting , real time  system of dedicated protein strings, remembering where they came from, and where they need to go, and when .....

The Designer Maker,  who some don't believe in, but continue to follow nevertheless ,  must be quietly smiling to himself.  

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Proletarian and Posh Parking....

It seems University of California at Berkeley,  offers its Nobel Laureates something special.  Free Lifetime Parking  outside their department, where a board next to the reserved place actually says so.

The physics Department has 7 Nobel laureates , and so, seven parking spaces outside the department.

For all others, ordinary non-brilliant  slogging tax payer types , not only do they pay a hefty sum as a yearly parking fee, but they  join the hordes of folks who drive in everyday, as early as they can, so they find a parking space, close to where they work on campus.

It is , of course, entirely possible, but probably unlikely, that someone who did not own a car was awarded the Nobel.  He/ She  still gets a reserved parking space.  I also hear that similar stuff is followed at the  UC San Francisco campus.

There is also the need to renew these permits every year, Nobellian or not.  And the Berkeley Police penalize non renewal , Nobellian or not.

Mind you, no drivers, chauffeurs, beacon lights, or campus police riding in formation ahead of you.  Just someone trundling up, in, say, a beat up Volvo Wagon.

I just wondered how things would be if this kind of facility was offered in Mumbai, to some kind of international or even better, national  prize winners ,  say in Colaba, Dadar, and even Bandra, all upmarket areas where parking is so difficult to find.

For one thing,  you need to think of style.

They wouldn't tolerate such ordinary boards. It would have to be something spanning the width of the parking lot, with a photo of the prize winner, and assorted photos of well wishers across the bottom of the banner board.

Those owning cars , would of course be delighted, and would probably go in for a fancier model, and ask for a deferred customs duty  in case the new one is to be imported. Very clearly, a precedent exists in the form of Sachin Tendulkar. And you never know, you may even qualify for a Rajya Sabha Nomination.....

Those who did not own cars, would simply go in for vans and wagons that can carry many passengers. Probably under the advice from their son who wants to start a car hire business , and what can be better than a great daily waiting area from where to operate. 

Nothing fazes the Mumbai entrepreneur. Particularly the non-e type who mostly innovates on-the-spot  There will probably be some observant folks who will figure out a time, when the parking space would not be used.  They will observe the weekly frequency, timings etc. They may even make friends with the chauffeur, if the car has one. So many in Mumbai fear driving, and even small cars today have hired drivers.  

It would not be impossible to see a vendor of some sort, or a food cart occupy that place  during the car's non occupation. He might even name the food cart after the worthy who owns the parking space.

Then there will be folks who do not get discouraged by the presence of the car.  I mean what can be better than the trunk of the car for displaying ready made  children's clothes, trinkets, small toys, all displayed  in something that can be suddenly folded on a moment's notice. Sometimes , the bonnet of the car might be more useful, all depending on the make and model of the car. 

An event such as the prize winning individual being away  for a biggish length of time, with family and car , would be like a windfall.  Some opportunistic entrepreneur, would rent out that place by the half hour at preposterous rates, knowing that in Mumbai, there are always those who have more money than patience.  A fast food set up during late evenings would probably get the chap a percentage of the daily profit.

One might wonder where law enforcement came in, in all this.  Just imagine.  A passing cop  glances at the parking place, frowns at a couple of cars trying to double park, waves his hand around, nods at the prize winning gent getting into his car. He may even salute. Same place different time. The vendors are in full force.  Some quiet talk happens,  some stuff becomes invisible to law and order  and the cop rushes off to detain a biker riding without a helmet.

A new vendor lands up one evening. They try to shoo him away . There are arguments. Questions are asked about whose father owns the place in question. A typical Indian flavour to the conversation, doesn't allow politeness.  A direct question; "does this belong to your father ?  No ?  then stay out of this ...."

It's time for the prize winner parking lot grantee to return from wherever he has gone.  All the blatant trespassing signs disappear overnight.  He drives in; nay, he is driven in. And he stops.

There is someone languidly sitting , chewing away on some grass, looking at the four wheel contraption from under heavy lidded eyes.    A grand swish of the tail to swat a fly, a snort, possibly a superior sniff, and she continues her activities. The cow has just wandered over from the famous temple down the road, where devotees offer grass and greens to her.  She is full, and set out for a short walk.  And she amazingly saw this empty space and thanked her stars.  With all that  traffic, stalls and hawkers,  she would never find a place so lovely to relax for a while. 

And I would not be surprised at all,  if i heard about the Prize winner's offspring making an application in court or the government, to make the parking place an inheritable place, and going all the way up to the Supreme Court to ensure that it happens.    

Some things don't ever change in India.

I cannot see anything remotely similar happening in Berkeley. 

Gosh. All these law abiding citizens, driving past occasional empty Nobellian parking spaces outside various departments.  Not a single person deploring waste of space, and temporarily putting his/her car there, hazard lights on, bonnet up , trying to fool the cops, and not a single person looking up and asking the cops "Do you know who I am ?".

And , come to think of it, not a single cow .....    !    

(Things might change. Just heard about a Kenyan Lawyer offering  50 cow, 70 sheep, and 30 goats   to President Obama, for his daughter, Malia's hand in marriage.   Don't know about Berkeley, but Washington DC   needs to look out for its parking spaces. )

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Fixing the Broken....

One comes across some interesting stuff on Facebook which one shares . Sometimes , these are quotes .   I came across this one , shared it, and was surprised at the many many "likes" that it continued to get, long after posting .

The comments often indicated the mind of the commenter.

To some, it was about perfection, grammar,  and acquiring an ability with a specified proficiency level.

To some others,  it was about  pulling down English Nazis a notch or so , in a world with so many other languages.

And to some others, it wasn't so much  about English, but about making fun of someone , or even abusing them,  sitting on their  pseudo lofty perch.

 This quote is by H. Jackson Brown , an author in the US,  and it made an appearance in the 90's when people there were averse to learning new languages , and refused to look beyond English. Very few bothered about the world outside America.  It was also a bit about being respectful of other cultures, and opening one's eyes to the world around.  (When I was studying in the US in the early seventies,  I was always asked how come my English was so good . And did I speak "Indian"  back home.  When they found I understood and spoke a bit of French , they couldn't believe it.  Although 2 years later a waiter on Champs Elysee did).......

In the middle of all this, we forget that language is a means of communication.   It may involve words, intonations, gestures and so on, but the idea is to get something useful across to another person.  You do not have to go abroad for this.  You can experience this in India,; why, in Mumbai itself, with its melting pot of people from all across India.

And if you can manage to convey whatever you wanted, you have been successful at communication. 

Broken English implies the existence of a perfect English.   The definition of "perfect" itself is hazy, because there is US English and UK English. And to tell the truth, there is actually an Indian English. Those who swear by Wren and Martin, and fancy pronunciation,  blithely ignore the fact that the US spells words pretty much the way it wants, ignoring the tenets of the Mother Language. It also makes variations in the way they use verbs, by introducing words like "gotten".  No one laughs at them or marks red lines through their written communication. Why ?  I guess power has something to do with it. 

And so making fun of those who speak broken languages, in this case, English, is more about the ability to look  down on someone from a position of power, or, in a sense, humiliate them. 

More trouble in this world has occurred because of the urge of  A to humiliate  B.

Because A and B are different.  Different in color, different in religion, different in social beliefs, different in intelligence, different in levels of prosperity, and different, even in interpretations of what each side might think is fun.

We in India are very adept at humiliating people. And the land.

On a social level, in India, we humiliate people as a show of power. It could be a boss at the office, it could be an in-law or husband in the home, it could be an appointed functionary in your school, it could even be the cops.  In rural India, humiliation is often colored by caste.  Those who purport to lead, often have innovative ways of publicising their ability to humiliate, like showing people tying their shoelaces for them as they stand  resplendent in so called power.  Humiliating the so called weaker sex, is justified  in the name of social custom.

The fear of humiliation amidst family on being unsuccessful in examinations is so huge, that today, it is a known psychological problem, being handled by trained counsellors.  Girls are humiliated for their looks, clothes and sometimes even for their independent thinking, and so on, often accompanied by forced disfiguring by throwing acid on faces.  Women are humiliated for their inability to beget sons,for their origin, for their size, for their color.

We humiliate our land  by throwing all kinds of dirt on it, often changing the nature of the soil. We humiliate our rivers, by soiling them with side products of industrial progress, and the dirt of humanity  , both in life and in death.  And we humiliate our mountains by not understanding why they stand the way they do, and by ravaging through them in the name of progress.  We humiliate our public transport by soiling it and stealing from it.

 We humiliate law as it exists, by following it in its breach.  We humiliate money by misusing it and degrading its value

So many of these things are local to our country.

The quotation above says "Never make fun of  anyone who speaks broken English. It means they know another language."

It is not really about language.   It is more about decent altruistic communication without running anyone down, and giving respect, and the fact that variety in humans exists.

And it is really about removing the word "humiliate" from your cerebral and social  dictionary.

Until then,   can A and B be friends ?


Saturday, May 23, 2015

H, R, HR, and being your own FDA

It tells you something, when the headline of "Maggie noodles 2014 batches recalled by the FDA"  shares the front pages of newspapers   with the PM,  protests by farmers, planes landing on the Yamuna Expressway ,  black money,  and the Delhi quarrels between the CM and LG.

And while I can understand why someone needs to certify drugs , I never could see why someone needed to certify foods.

Until now. 

Long long moons ago,  there was much discipline in the way we lived . That was how "management" happened instinctively in families. Mostly by the mothers, the Executive Directors.  To be sure , there was HR.  Human Resources Management.

There was more consideration about the "H" in "HR" than the "R", or the Resources that lay around.

 We were our own FDA, and our own cops. And we did our own appraisals and took them seriously.  I count many HR managers amongst my friends, and they would possibly be the first to acknowledge the contribution of their domestic  "Executive Directors"  in making them what they are today.

  Matriarchs of families cooked seasonal foods, traditional foods, along with foods that were prepared in summer, sun dried well on terraces, and then stocked  for year round usage,  as accompaniments , on kitchen shelves. Kids guarded the drying stuff on the terrace as part of their summer holidays, and shooed off inquisitive birds et al. There was a wide variety in the foods we imbibed throughout the year.  At mealtimes as well as snacks.

One of the biggest differences between childhood then (> 50 years ago)  and today, is strong knowledgeable mothers vis a vis those today who mindlessly give in to every whim and fancy , in a family unconcerned about food values.   

I've known someone who once had to travel to the native place urgently, left her college going sons to their own resources,  and on return, indulgently mentioned that in the 4 days that she was absent, the fellows managed to consume 45 packets of Maggie noodles.  The empty packets were the proof. It wasn't that regular food was unavailable ; there were places that would provide a dabba service, canteens etc. Maggie didn't grow in your backyard, and had to be bought, just like the dabbas.  But their choice was clear.  (What my son wants , my son gets.)

I've known some ladies who aspire to make pav bhaji "just like in the hotels",  blobs of butter, shining oil, perhaps food color et al, and they never forget to mention how Coke or Pepsi is mandatory on those days because "In my house , it is a must, no one has pav bhaji without it..."  . 

And I have known well educated and informed ladies , who pride themselves on their Chinese dishes (after having attended classes) , who display horror and surprise at the fact that I cook all that without MSG.  Ironical, because the horror is misplaced. 

And what to say about mothers who dote on expensive high fructose corn syrup loaded fruit juices for their kids, and then crib and discuss on how fresh fruit prices have gone through the roof.  And they  are always the ones who look for kiwi fruits, imported apples , pears, extra large grapes, fair and lovely bananas,  and assorted fruits sold with individually suck fancy labels.   

I grew up enjoying seasonal vegetables and fruits.  There were certain fruit preparations which were traditional and seasonal, and one learned to appreciate and enjoy them.  As a child one loved sweets, but something that has always remained with me throughout half a century is that, doing exercise earns you a meal.  I didn't know then what a calorie was.  And anyone overdoing sweets (or any other  special item ) out of normal proportion at a meal, was gently admonished. Being able to eat like a glutton was never considered an achievement.    

The unwritten rule at mealtimes was that you ate what was served on the plate ,  regardless of whether the vegetable qualified as your favourite . Asking for seconds was optional.  And so you always started the meal with one representative of everything  that was  cooked,  long before someone designed the food pyramid. The various preparations  offered a plethora of tastes and textures.   Some of us tried shoving unpopular veggies behind dal katoris  and got found out.

And it was never all serious.  Raw mangoes, guavas (off the neighbor's tree) , tamarinds (red and green), Rai amlas ,  were all enjoyed secretly, with spices and salt,  on hot afternoons on the shady part of the terrace,  while everyone else napped ,  and matka cooled water drunk immediately because it tasted so sweet.  Families even made ice creams  in pots, where the churning work was outsourced to the kids and their friends. Seasonal fruits, saffron, sitaphal and such , were perennial favourites as ice cream flavors.  

Traditional snacks and festival food preparations had much to do with the seasons and the soil. These were prepared and relished during those days, and offered to friends, but we never made meals out of these. Unless of course, it was Puran Poli.  That too, in moderation .  We were introduced to delicacies of other parts on India too, and loved them.  But like the Bard said, "For everything there was a season...."

When food processors first appeared on the Horizon, my mother was in the process of acquiring a ghanti or electrified grain grinder.  The existing option was the manual stone grinding , which was laborious and time consuming and the public grain grinding places at the chakki,  where the entire output came with huge temperatures and assorted mixed grains from the previous grind. She felt the excessive commercial grinding power destroyed the nutrition due to the heat generated.  To this day, we see the difference between food prepared from the home grinding ghanti and commercially ground flours. I still have my mothers chutney stone, and use it. 

Clearly, this isn't the place to praise anyone.

But it is certainly the place to point out, that sometimes, taking unpopular steps is necessary to introduce and convince kids about good food.  There is something to be said about seasonal and traditional versatility   in our foods. Traditional practices of cooking foods, that not only preserve but even add nutrition (think cast iron kadhais).

And there is something to be said for taking the trouble to introduce kids to this at a young age.  So they can make sensible decisions when faced with a food ad tsunami, made up of 50%  inaccuracies .

It is difficult in a society, where some folks get their self esteem from being demanding and having people give in to their demands.  And a mother trying to improve some one's eating habits gets made fun off by those who didn't bother with them in the first place .

Like I said , we need to concentrate on the "H" in the "HR".

Today we are awash in the "R"'s as in Resources.  Most resources today come glamorized.

There is , as in life, an over emphasis on  "looking good".  Even in food.

Many resources claim that they make life easy. And convenient . Even in food.

Like stuff that discourages  active chewing, and encourages mindless swallowing.  

Sometimes, swallowing  of claims, rumors and distorted facts emblazoned in television and print ads.

(Having said that, I wonder if it is a sign of the times, that the first thought that came to mind when one heard about Maggie people being booked for excessive quantities of lead in the food,  was whether some one was getting back at someone ?  (banning 2014 manufactured batches in mid 2015, given the consumption rate of Maggi Noodles,  kind of boggles the mind..)

On second thought, would the FDA do similar actions  against cosmetics producers using harmful products in things like fairness creams et al ?  

At the end of the day, what really remains is the ability of generations to use native intelligence acquired thru generations, common sense , and be their own FDA....

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ambassadorial Times

I actually learned driving,  in 1967 , on an Ambassador car , that our family owned. I even remember the license plate number and the color of the car.

The earlier car was a sea-green Hillman , with the sort of horn you don't hear today, and as children , we always knew someone was reaching home, when a signature honking with a 1-2-123 beat was heard  on roads with the then minimal traffic near our house.  This car had trudged up hills, blown radiator lids in the ghats, and even successfully made it to a hill station , stuffed with passengers, and a radiator with a banana skin tied on top to replace a lid which actually fell into the valley. The banana skin thing was a truck driver's idea.  The car had also driven down the mountain to the coast, with passengers sitting on mattresses loaded on to the rear seats, en route to leaving a child (not me ) to a residential technical Institute in Mumbai (from where I am now actually writing this) .....

Growing families and the firm belief that larger spaces enabled the transport of entire sets of relatives from point A to Point B , probably made folks zero in on the Ambassador , which was acquired , after advancing for years and years,  through a  huge wait list.  In those days, the choice was between Fiat and Ambassador, and it was, regardless of the technical specifications,   like choosing between  a delicate girl, and someone who was healthier.  My mother even once thought the Fiat as "taklubi" , and I suspect the idea was that a car  should have an ability to be hardy, and to hold its own in severe circumstances  and not collapse .

Silence was never a virtue in these cars,  you never changed the hand gears according to speeds specified in some manual, but actually by sensing the engine sound as you accelerated. There was no power steering then, and turning these cars at sharp angles was an achievement that kept your upper limbs in excellent health. Seat were designed for maximum usage , and clearly with the possibility that people would sit on laps, given the amazing leg room in the rear seats. Bucket seats were unknown, which was nice. I mean why should the company decide how many folks can occupy one seat ? 

The trunk of the car was very spacious, and nothing was sacrificed  to, say, modern design considerations.   These cars also came with something we used to call, for want of a better word, "handle".   This was in addition to the usual "jack" , using which we learned how to change punctured tyres in our time.   Whenever the car did not start after pulling a thing after switching the ignition on, someone would get out with this handle, poke it in through a hole way in front below the radiator, and rotate the shaft in a motion similar to extracting sugarcane juice.  For some reason it was always done with a jerk,  and at some point, the air-petrol mixture managed to ignite and get things moving, so to speak. 

Trunks and Bonnets did not ever open with some magic click from the driver.  Someone always tickled something below the bonnet , moved it and lifted the bonnet, showcasing the engine in all its glory.  A  collection of so many interesting shapes and sizes, at so many levels, where you could use a screwdriver to minutely tune things, and some experts could even do it by ear. There were steaming radiators, where someone always shouted at everyone else to stand away,  while opening the lid, and occasionally got scalded by the hot water. Those were the days of a complicated arduous climb up the Bhor Ghat from Mumbai to Pune, with mind boggling fearful acute U bends combined with a sixty degree simultaneous slope,  and everyone stopped up the plateau, after a tunnel, with bonnets open, and radiators cooling, with folks refilling the water in there, while other folks bought ice golas from vendors who frequented the place.

Being part of a family function, could mean being the driver, who transported numerous relatives from house to wedding hall in minimum number of trips, thanks to people occupying every single available space in all the seats, and laps of people. Seat belts and such restrictive stuff had not entered the Indian market,  were probably considered fashion then, and no one knew what air bags were. Small kids often stood leisurely leaning back against seats (front and rear), buffeted by weighty adults who kind of packed the kid in. It was considered  completely normal to ask your driving age son to give you and your ten friends a ride to the house of your eleventh friend who was having a Haldi Kunku. And it was often a prize winning , wordless, sometimes quietly  protesting performance from a  son, accompanied by so many ladies , in rustling silks, jewellery, flowers , some younger ones on laps of older ones, heads hitting the roof,  all of them vociferously wondering if they just missed the turnoff  to whoever's house, and should they go reverse and go back....

The sturdy car bore all these excesses with equanimity.  It was built  for societies such as ours, with bad roads, potholes,  lots of travelling luggage of assorted shapes, folding stools, random additions to number of passengers at the last minute, and people with a knack for pushing cars when stuck. When there was an engine problem,  there were people who would delve in and adjust settings , screws and levels, since nothing was packaged and covered like a black box, a la today's cars.  It also made members of the family,  semi expert on things like Carburettors, fast and slow settings, Shellac, Delco, Bendix Wheel, Starter, Fuel pump, dynamos, Armatures, washers, accelerator springs and so on. And no one ever cribbed about drying a drenched Delco point after driving through flooded roads in torrential rains.

When I moved on to a Fiat consequent to a life status change,  everything was so light. In comparison, driving the Ambassador felt like driving a tank.  The Ambassador was like a strict tough school teacher, who ensured you put in the requisite strong effort changing steering wheel  gears, doing laborious sharp turns, and proper reversing.  Because all that training is good for you. (Like learning math tables up to 29).

 The Fiat was like a holiday ; everything was easier on the biceps and triceps, and for some reason the steering while , although not of the "power" type,  could be twirled occasionally with one hand. It was actually like a female version of the Ambassador.  By and by, our  Fiat retired after 38 years of meritorious service, and is in Vanaprsathashram at a automobile repair teaching department at a  polytechnic at our native place in Kokan..

Those were days of no expressways, people drove with windows open, sometimes assorted handkerchiefs and towels drying in the breeze, anchored somewhere inside the car.  Hot seasons saw wet khus mats on the top of the car.  You stopped when you saw someone selling local fruit,  or a chai tapri away to one side.  Or a famous vada place . Someone would see a temple and one would stop to  honor a grandmother's wish.   We didn't really have radios, but plenty of kids sang popular  songs and played antakshari during the journey.   External communication from the car was  simply non existent. (I mean if you said "Bluetooth", a shocked driver would  simply take you to the nearest dentist, and saying "Ice Cream Sandwich", would get the benefit of a strict maternal glare. )

Life has changed. Today's cars  talk less. They glide.  Trying to do it noiselessly, on roads that haven't changed at all. Its like trying to do a fashion show in the middle of Bhuleshwar. 

 They also cost more.  Most are air cooled,  and it is in the fitness of things, and probably not a coincidence, that the radiator cooling spot in the Bhor ghat , disappeared with the advent of the expressway.  Today's cars are also selfish.  One seat , one person.  Compulsory seat belts.  When malfunctions happen, entire packaged engine parts are changed. Banana skins are not used.  Looks are important. And so are dynasties. German, Korean, Japanese, US and yes , Indian.

Mumbai's weather has not appreciably altered from the old days, but every modern car now come with AC.  With the result, that people are unable to otherwise tolerate heat.  And they get easily rattled.  When life gets too easy,  you get demanding  and  lose temper easily.  Speed is of essence in everything. Whether it is the expressway,  responses, phone calls,  food preparation,  or just about anything.   Which includes losing temper.

 So you have road rages.

I suppose we need to move with the times.   The newer cars are here to stay  in their different categories, shapes, colors, makes, fancy engines and fancier names.

But  somewhere, there is a thought, that  we lost something wonderful, when we gave up our eclectic ambassadorial lives  in this modern world.

Clearly, it wasn't just a car. It was a lifestyle......