Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Parade, Vishram !



I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. (And I am delighted to note that not one of them is checking the cell phone..)

And hopefully this is not something done by a die hard Photoshop aficionado.

To see who is who in the richest queue above click here .

Could be the effect of the Republic Day Parade, but this actually  creates an explicable urge to say "Parade, Vishram !"


 I have been a queuer for years.   Standing in a queue ,  is not a natural thing to do  and is always an imposition, for the common folks like you and me , and we unite when faced with those who try to jump the queue based on  "connections",  physical pushing abilities, and their so called public persona.

I've been part of passport office queues that started at dawn and went around huge buildings, for a 10 am opening; complete with torrential rains, umbrellas dripping on neighbors, and cycle based chaiwallahs tinkling bells and making the rounds, bringing much needed succour to those who braved wars in suburban trains to get there instead of enjoying idli and coffee at home.

I've been part of visa queues that extended way down in multiple lines on pothole studded pavements in the poshest part of Mumbai.

I've been part of railway ticket queues prior to approaching summers, when there was almost planned ambiguity in which queue was for what, with some folks suddenly reaching windows in an unconstitutional manner , and some tickets suddenly being unavailable.

And I have been in queues in Ration offices, places where affidavits are done,  the Gas agencies,  not to mention, more recently, for the Aadhar card. I have known folks who employ other folks to stand in a queue on their behalf at unearthly hours, and then themselves land up after a decent sleep and  breakfast, and suddenly replace them, causing much teeth grinding amongst those who did all this , ie standing in lines hours before , themselves.

I have always wondered why one never saw , say,  Hrithik Roshan in a passport queue, or say, Priyanka Chopra shuffling from one foot to another in a Visa queue prior to an overseas trip.   Did  Mukesh Ambani sit with his eye against a big lens for his Aadhar card ?  Did  Sachin Tendulkar stand in line at the Gas Agency to link his several kitchen gas cylinders to his Aadhar card after filling a form ?     

And I have always wondered how the rich and famous do this.  It is all fine to have flunkies who clear the traffic and your immediate surroundings so you can favour the earth with your footfall,  but do they send proxy folks, when they get important things done ? Do the passport , visa and other offices, come home to them ?

And so it was with a sense of wonder that I noticed  the Who's Who of Indian Industry standing in line at what I believe , was Rashtrapati Bhavan. Waiting to get in to meet, presumably,  the most powerful man in the world today. 

Brought to mind images of school lines, where you stood in line and were not allowed to converse with each other.  Brought to mind scenarios from school drills, where you held out at arms length and spaced yourself away from the next person.  No special lines for girls. Some in the photo even looked like they were punished by the teacher. And it looked like a monitor type stood at the head of the line, keeping others in check ?  Perhaps a separate line for those disobeying the rules for uniforms ?

And I wondered how things would be if the next time you travelled by the Mumbai local, you looked up to see , say, Mukesh A. , saying "Zara sarkun ghyaa..."   asking you to shift so he could occupy the undefined fourths seat in a crowded second class compartment,   or Anil A, running blithely, and taking a running jump on to the foot board of a running Titwala local, as assorted guys , leaning out, with lunch tiffins, help him in, making space where none exists.  Or perhaps the queens of industry, as they watch the train entrepreneurs in action, selling everyday life in the ladies second class,  as someone shoves past them,  hair blowing in the wind, saying, "Ghatkopar utarne ka nahi to abhi se kyun yahan khadi hai ?"
 
I wondered what would happen if while trudging up n staircases after an electric outage that stalled elevator service, you ran across the chairman of a big group huffing and puffing alongside you , and what you would say to him,after you got your breath back.   And the next time you rushed into a bus creaking under an overload, would you stand with your mouth agape when you noticed the conductor demand "Chutta dya"  from what can only be the captain of the banking industry ...

Forty years ago, I worked for a company that even today is in the vanguard of the IT industry.  High rises at Nariman Point were just being built and we worked in one of the most prominent ones. With tons of offices, four fancy lifts, and people who actually stood in line to get in, as opposed to rushing in a la Mumbai locals.

Returning from a roadside lunch, the door of the lift was about to close, when an old benevolent looking gentleman , with a prominent nose, a smile on his face and a spring in his step, walked in , without any flunkies and folks hovering solicitously around him. He checked to see if the floor button where he needed to get off was pressed, and simply stood like anyone of us. One of our senior colleagues recognized him and wished him. When we got off at our floor, he peered out and asked , "Is it one of our companies ?"  and smilingly got off with us when all of us excitedly responded in the affirmative. 

He then paid a courtesy call on our head, causing much excitement in the office.

This was JRD Tata, then Chairman of Tata's, on a routine visit to one of his several business and corporate interests.  No hangers on, no uniformed flunkies, just a very dignified personage, asking for no special considerations, and behaving like he was like everyone else.  Right from when he was driven in, in a white ambassador, and he climbed up the steps to the foyer, carrying his own attache case , and into the lift.  The sudden visit to our office over , he got back into the elevator to continue to his destination in the building.  

They don't make them like that anymore.

Perhaps, there are some.

But they keep getting overshadowed by those whose place is defined by an alphabet with a plus sign , where their importance to the nation and security matters .

Just saying......

Monday, January 19, 2015

Face Values....


Long before patents, attorneys, inter country fights about neem  and turmeric, and much before  I  could even spell Ayurveda,  Neem was known to me.

It was about the leaves found in our hot bath water, particularly after an entire set of us cousins in the family house got chickenpox.

It was about  noticing dried leaves in the packets of rice that were packed after paddy was dehusked by hand-pounding in our garage . My folks ate only hand pound (threshed in a set up in the garage ) unpolished rice, untouched by machine,  and dried neem leaves were interspersed into each packet to keep insects at bay. And no one really bothered about a stray leaf that made its way into a cooked rice occasionally.

It was about mornings, teeth brushing, and folks in the family chewing on a twig of the Neem tree,  watching us kids do our sophisticated toothbrush and toothpaste act. I tried it once , didn't like it at all,  but developed great respect for those who did the chewing.

It was also about the Indian New Year, and the traditional eating of fresh neem leaves with jaggery. Jaggery was welcome, and it was not easy to  avoid the leaves under the watchful parental eyes. Today, times have changed, and the watchful eyes belong to me.  

And then there were the typical teenage days . These were before the lotion and moisturizer era, and ambehaldi and besan scrubs at bath times,  were the order of the day, with fresh malai doing the honors in winters.   Folks swearing by the results of applying neem leaves paste on skin eruptions, and using special neem oils. A few folks had what  was termed an Acne problem by older folks, and elicited a "Eww..." from those seeing it at close quarters, and mothers religiously rustled up neem and turmeric pastes and stuff for daily use by these folks.

When I  had my own dwelling, I planted a neem sapling outside my kitchen window, and it grew fast and tall just like a gangly teenager , where nature might schedule lateral expansion to a later date. To my immense regret, someone , convinced that it was blocking their breeze, had it cut down, and the stump treated to die, when i was away for a longish period.  Sign of the times ?

Since then I have often thought about Neem, our society, the eruptions that happen therein, why they happen, and how there need to be Neem-like personages or Neemlike attitudes so that life might improve .  As an anti bacterial, anti fungal, a pesticide, and even a mosquito repellent,  it defines the qualities we look for, to improve those causing violent eruptions in the society in which we live, and the problem today has been that trees themselves, like the one I planted ,  are being killed.  

Earlier societies had a pace that encouraged holistic  living.  Diets in consonance with seasons and soils. Efforts from first principles, as opposed to quick and fast shortcuts. A respect for what useful knowledge came down to us from years of successful application.

What was , in my childhood referred to as  आजिबाईचा  बटवा or Grandmother's Medicinal Pouch,  is being touted as a new thing, What is missing is the native knowledge regarding native plants, and simple methods of combining things that increase the bioavailability  of these things in our bodies.

So we make do with what we have. 

The good thing is that today, Neem products, scientifically prepared, are available in many forms, such as oil, leaf extracts, soaps, scrubs, etc.  Some companies, have woken up  and incorporated these into creams and lotions that one may use on one's skin, in a well defined manner.  Garnier Fructis folks have , in a unique Indo Australian combination, come up with a cream face wash with extracts of Neem and Tea Tree Oil, the last being a native Australian medicine.  It is called Garnier Pure Active Neem.  There are suggested application frequencies,  projected success rates, and hopefully it all works to display some  joy on your face....

A life where a careful crushing and hand grinding of Neem leaves on a clean chutney stone or mortar and pestle, has now regressed into a quick squeeze of something from a tube on to a face. It s a case of having the knowledge and not having the time.

Perhaps we are coming full circle. Perhaps there is something to the type of cures we took for granted.

Like rushing with an onion to stick it under some one's nose, when a nosebleed happened;  or holding a much walked chappal/shoe  under some one's nose to teach the vagus nerve a lesson it never forgets, when someone faints. 

Or wrapping some ajwain seeds tied in a muslin cloth and lightly roasting on a griddle to make someone inhale the fragrance, a great way to clear blocked noses....

And lets simply not mention a terrible looking thing called poultice that was about a bunch of kitchen foods stirred in black cast iron kadhais and applied on injuries which were then wrapped in gauze, which always leaked some of it, causing immense embarrassment in school.

Perhaps, Mr Garnier and Mr Fructis  will come up with Onion Sprays

Perhaps they will come up with nosestrips with Dirty-Chappal fragrance.

Yes. And what about poultice in a tube that hardens on application ? Ykes. 

 Perhaps, the height of it all will be microwaveable pouches with ajwain seeds that you heat and hold to your nose in a fancy pouch.

I am not amused.

But. 

Should this eventually happen, just remember that you first heard about it here....


(Submitted as an entry to the Indiblogger-Garnier Pure Active Neem Contest.)

Friday, January 09, 2015

In solidarity with the cows.....


(This  appeared in the Mid-Day paper of Jan 9, 2015.  Aarey Colony is an erstwhile  green area   demarcated  for dairy activities for many decades. Successive Mumbai governments have arranged back door entries of the concrete lobby, and even leased lands to film companies for studios, with toll roads through the area always crowded with Mumbai's horrendous traffic. )

I live in an area  which was earlier the natural abode of wild cattle, monkeys, snakes, crocodiles and the like. And yes, even leopards.

I don't think nature has reservation laws. There is a space for everyone to lead their lives, sometimes sensibly and sometimes not so.

All this changed, when the powers that be decreed that the area be demarcated for a residential technical Institution of higher learning for the benefit of the youth of the country.   Massive constructions, classrooms, administrative buildings, hostels, residential quarters for staff, recreational facilities and schools happened,  and as it happens in all developmental activities, those deemed not to have a say, or those whose rights over the space were ignored, were the most affected.

In my close to forty years of staying here, I have been witness to , and sometimes even a participant in,  so may scenes.

A massive crowd of at lest 50 cattle, 20 years ago, in the days before halogen lamps,  with a clearly defined leader cow, sitting as if in a dharna , completely blocking the main road after you entered the campus, through its then imposing Main Gate.  A visiting young niece from Delhi, calling it Indira Gandhi's meeting. Cars honking and approaching close. Some last minute rising by diffident cows. Some defiant chewing of the cud, and smirking by powerful heavy lidded  bovines, dark with intent in the evening gloom.

A mother driving a two wheeler with her son sitting back to back on the pillion seat, taking him to the campus school.  A cow with her calves at a corner getting suddenly agitated by the sound of changing gears, as the two wheeler turned, and mobilizing for a revengeful  gallop. The terrified screaming pillion kid, and the wide eyed looks of parents near the school as they notice the drama, of the unaware mother, driving and being chased by a galloping cow with horns pointing. The kid jumping off and being whisked away by helpful parents, as the mother, zips off accelerating away at a turn , grateful for a better turning ratio than the cow. And the cow slowly giving up, somewhere realizing that mothers with kids do not threaten mothers with kids.

 Then there was  a colleague, newly married, and settling back into his newly granted accommodation on campus  as he returned with his pregnant wife after a doctor's visit. The monsoons were in full force, his residence was in an area , which was yet to have tarred roads, and there was a lot of mud and slush at the entrance .  A cow,   or could have been a buffalo, resplendent in the mud,  kind of joyfully messing in the muck, looks up at him on the two wheeler, and slowly gets up, and starts chasing him around in spurts. He , torn between avoiding the animals horns, and stopping to allow his wife to disembark, in a tense 10 minute drama, as his wife jumps off in a dramatic dash towards the building steps,  luckily safely makes it, and he continues his battle, dodging the single minded animal , and trying to accelerate out of the slush and out of the way  on to the main road.

The campus human population is now in tens of thousands, but that has not deterred some animals from returning to investigate.

 In the fairly recent past, some kids returning home during a school lunch break, couldn't reach their residences in a fairly high density central area. Why ? Because , sometime mid morning, a leopard had wandered on to the second floor landing of the building  and was sitting there. Folks inside could not come out, and nobody dared climb the stairs.  Clearly, the leopard was unaware of school timings, office hours, the fact that , unlike most folks in Mumbai, everyone returned home for lunch  here, and had probably managed to saunter in during a mid morning traffic lull. The drama went on for hours, with the kids enjoying an unusual holiday , parents  worried,  crowds collecting outside to watch the efforts of the authorities at trying to sedate and capture the leopard for subsequent release in the forest land adjoining us.

Yes, development , as we see it happening, is difficult for the animals  to understand.

Monkeys, crocodiles, dogs, all rue the lack of drinking water sources, as the lakes get polluted, and concrete replaces grasslands.  Monkeys are now trained in climbing high rises, and leaping from old trees, to maraud dining rooms through windows, and have evolved into beings who differentiate between Alphonso and other mangoes and attack things selectively. And it is not unusual to see some animals loitering outside classrooms during lectures of the engineering kind. 

In the last week, I have been witness to a huge cow with a hurt hoof, standing quietly outside the Main Gate , trying to make sense of the heavy traffic, noise, lights, and restless pedestrians who would suddenly cross in droves, dodging random traffic.  She watched for at least two signal changes. Then she decided to amble across, dragging her foot, eyes in front, head down, sneezing intermittently.

Traffic lights turned amber, then green, folks accelerated, vehicles growled, but the traffic , waited , while she made her way across, a seven road intersection , ambling, without any special help from law and order authorities.

And then I remember the visit , to us (to our campus) , last year, of a top personality of one our most developed countries.  Several days prior to the arrival, reconnaissance , sanitisation, suggestions of altered vehicular arrangements; local law authorities meekly agreeing to drastic security limitations imposed by the developed country's security set up, special passes given to those working , so many for so many decades, teaching so many ,  and then the passes blithely not honored, as roads were emptied, and employees, and school children returning during lunch break were held back behind rope barriers  and rude shouts, in anticipation of the motorcade of the developed country person, likely to pass. 

( I have been a resident here when 2 Presidents , and two PM's  visited here , across the years, to address convocations, and do not remember such security. )

Yes. The aforementioned cow was barred from her own land. 

And this person, not of this country, dictated our movements .  In our own land.

I kind of know how the cows,leopards et al, felt.........

Friday, December 19, 2014

Unknown of the Mind


The mind is a fascinating piece of stuff. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mind is a strange entity.

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Write is Right....


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Never mind.

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





Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Railonama : Review



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go get this book.      



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

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of "Twists of Fate" by Priyanka Naik


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

Turns out that she is also an author.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 






Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Koyri Indulgence ..... go visit!


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

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

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

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

My friend Gunjan, is someone who excels at this.

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

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

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

Click  to see a slide show of her products below.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go to Koyri and indulge !



 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Review : The Mahabharata Quest; The Alexander Secret



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

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

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

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

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

The narrative flits between various ages and countries.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope you will too .


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

Saturday, November 08, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

And "S" had some stories to tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No baby.

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

No baby.

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

 All this blatantly happening in full view of the ward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an entry into our world !

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

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

Congratulations to S !